One of the single greatest concerns in the early church was the expression of the truth of the Word of God being lived out in the lives of believers compared to the ever increasing voices of confused Christians and false teachers. What a person believes effects how a person behaves. If someone is confused or believes in what is false, their behavior will reflect this. For instance, Paul writes to the confused people in the Corinthian church because they were dealing with division, abuse of the sacraments, disorder during worship services, theological heresy, and moral laxity. In Corinth their disunity stemmed from arrogance and self-centeredness that was prevalent in culture but incompatible with God’s truth. Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, making the case that much of their conduct was not in line with the Gospel of Christ. The Corinthians needed to remove themselves from the immoral thinking of their culture and focus on the truth of who they are in Christ. In addition to Corinth, the Galatians were dealing with false teachers (Judaizers) who came in after Paul to preach a distorted form of Christianity, the Colossians were experiencing dangerous false teaching that devalued Christ and failed to bring Christians into maturity, and the Thessalonians were confused about the Scriptures concerning the second coming of Christ and were dealing with unnecessary grief, fear, unexpected persecution, and laziness. Paul writes to Timothy to address the way in which Christians should behave in contrast to the behavior of the false teachers in Ephesus, and Paul writes to Titus with the same concerns involving Christian living and qualifications for church leaders in contrast to false teaching and behavior. Paul isn’t the only writer of the New Testament who had something to say about false teachers. Second Peter warns against false and destructive apostles who cause believers to turn their backs on God, 2 John warns Christians to beware of deceivers and false teachers, and even James deals with the inseparable link between belief and action and the deception that comes from believing lies rather than truth.
With false teaching and confusion over the gospel being a prominent feature of the early church, we should not be surprised to find some of the same issues in today’s church. While there are some who diligently study Scripture and seek to live in accordance with the Word of God, there are still many church members who are completely confused about the Scriptures and the purpose of the church. While it should be pointed out that there are many different levels of Christian maturity among believers, it is also wise to take note of the lack of growth that leads to maturity. In the church body there can certainly be a lack of understanding and a lack of practice of the truth of God’s word which ultimately leads to confusion, false teaching, and a pseudo form of Christianity that is quite different from the real thing displayed in Scripture. What must occur in the transformed church is the preaching, teaching, and living of the truth of God’s Word. Our churches and members of the body of Christ must learn their roles and the roles of the Spiritual leaders God has put in place to shepherd the church.
From this perspective Paul says in verse 12 that he has been “entrusted” with the gospel. In a way he is revealing his qualifications for being one who is an authority in the matters of the gospel. Paul admits that his authority comes from his calling and though he doesn’t really seem qualified for the job, God has chosen him to be the messenger to the Gentiles anyway. Paul affirms his calling and authority through his thankfulness for being one who not only knows the gospel but who has also experienced the transforming work of Jesus Christ.
“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.” – 1 Timothy 1:12-14
Paul thanks God for mercy and for being used in spite of his own sins. He recognizes that the mercy shown to him by God was not deserved or earned. When he was a blasphemer and persecutor he acted ignorantly in unbelief and did not profess Christ. Now that he has been changed through the grace and mercy of Christ he walks in the faith and love that comes from this transforming relationship with the savior. This is in stark contrast to the false teachers and confused “Christians” who profess Christ and yet live in an evil and worldly manner. Their hypocrisy knows no bounds.
Paul also says he has been appointed to service. Technically his so called “job” was to bring the gospel to the gentiles and to lead, guide, encourage, and help disciple these gentiles and their churches. In doing these things Paul was serving God.
“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. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as 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.Amen.” – 1 Timothy 1:15-17
Paul’s ugly past made him claim himself to be the worst of all sinners. He persecuted the church and harmed those who professed faith in Jesus. Paul’s salvation is a perfect example of the divine grace of God, capable of transforming the worst of all sinners and enemies of God. This is the gospel that Paul lives and preaches, so that Christ’s work in him will enlighten those who might believe in Christ for eternal life. Paul’s life revealed the result of the true Gospel as compared to the lives of those being deceived by false teachers and false doctrine.
The transformed church is one that recognizes the true gospel and lives it. The good news is God didn’t just leave people to figure it all out on their own. Not only do we have the Bible, but just as Paul was entrused with the message of the gospel, churches have pastors, elders, and teachers who have also been entrusted with the truth of the gospel. Much like Paul these are people who were sinners and yet transformed by the grace and mercy of Christ. God has called and equipped people who have been gifted and called to teach the truth of God’s word and to help believers apply that truth to life.