Sunday, September 12, 2010

Intense Desire for Ministry

We can never, of course, repay God for His goodness to us through the gospel.  Nor should we try.  But that doesn’t mean that we don’t sense a deep desire to serve and honor Him.

That desire is what the Apostle Paul was showing as he continued his first letter to Timothy.  After describing the command he told Timothy to issue concerning the integrity, goal, grace, and progress of the gospel, Paul is overwhelmed as he recalls all that God has done in his life.  So before he can continue, he pauses to praise God.  In what some biblical commentators (incorrectly) call a tangent, Paul actually illustrates his point about the work of the gospel by remembering the power of God though the gospel in his own life.

Although Paul knows he can never and should never try to pay off any perceived debt regarding is salvation, he realizes that he owes God his life, and that he is “under obligation” as he puts it, to live in a Christlike way and to serve Christ by serving others.  Listen to how he understands that idea of being a debtor:

But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.  So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh, [but to live according to the Spirit]…. (Romans 8.11-12, NASB, emphasis added)

I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish.  So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. (Romans 1.14-15, NASB, emphasis added)

He was so driven and enthused and impassioned because he knew the depth of his sin, and yet he knew the power of the gospel of Christ to save him and set him on a new path of life, worship, and service (ministry).  This is no tangent or rhetorical digression from his topic on the gospel (in chapter 1).  On the contrary, his own life is his illustration, because Paul’s own amazing transformation is the example he knows best!  First, here is the next text from 1 Timothy, and then we’ll make some observations.

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service,  (13) even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor.  Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief;  (14) and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus.  (15) It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.  (16) Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.  (17) Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (1 Timothy 1.12-17, NASB)

Indeed, we serve God out of delight, not duty.  And yet, the overwhelming thought of His grace compels us to desire to give our lives to Him in return.  What do I do with this desire?

1. I respond to Him with my life as an offering of thanksgiving and praise. (1 Timothy 1.12, 17)

Notice that Paul bookends this great interjection with praise: he starts by saying he thanks Christ Jesus (v. 12), and then ends it with a brief Christ hymn (v. 17).  Some believe that verse may actually have been a recognizable hymn to these early believers.  Regardless, Paul remembers the transformation of his life, and cannot help but let that memory overflow in an offering of praise and thanksgiving.  He desires to praise God in words and song, but he also proves his praise by the demonstration of his life.  We must come to the point where we realize our entire lives are an offering back to God.  Paul said as much to the Corinthian church:

For all things are for your sakes, so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God. (2 Corinthians 4.15, NASB)

When we offer ourselves up to serve others for His glory, He gets the thanksgiving.  You are an offering of praise.

2. I respond to Him with my life as a worker with a purpose. (vv. 12-14)

Simply put, Paul knew he was on a mission.  He had a task, a purpose for which he was on earth.  And when the thought of God’s saving transformation overwhelmed him, he shared the clarity and certainty of that purpose with his readers.  Despite the fact that he had formerly engaged in a terrible lifestyle (v. 13), God had shown mercy and considered him faithful, placing him into ministry, or service (v. 12).  Paul never got over this, and neither should we.  He was clear on his calling:

For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying) as a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. (1 Timothy 2.7, NASB)

…for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle and a teacher. (2 Timothy 1.11, NASB)

Whether or not you are an apostle like Paul (you’re not) or a pastoral staff member is irrelevant: God has transformed you out of your former lifestyle or kept you from a further rebellious lifestyle in order that you might serve Him, and serve others for His sake.  You are a worker with a purpose.

3. I respond to Him with my life as an example for nonbelievers. (vv. 15-16)

Finally Paul notes that his transformed life has been an example for those who have not yet trusted in Christ through the gospel for their salvation.  He calls himself the worst kind of sinner—in his own words one who blasphemes (v. 13) Christ and his work.  Christ took that kind of man and made a prime example out of him, to show that no one, nor any sin, is out of the reach of God’s mercy and grace.  He uses all kinds of difficult situations as examples we can learn from:

Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved.  …Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. (1 Corinthians 10.6, 10.11, NASB)

So why not learn from a key example like Paul, and be used by God to reach someone else?  You are an example for others.

Some folks shy away from talking about “owing” anything back to God, for fear that others might be confused in wrongly thinking that salvation is in part due to our works.  While we must never diminish the doctrine of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, we must also not forget, in the words of Paul, that we are under obligation.  To help me remember, I have used the first letter of the points above as an acronym.  As an…

Offering of thanksgiving and praise, and a
Worker with a purpose, and an
Example for nonbelievers

…I remember that I OWE Him my life.

[This is part of a larger series on 1 Timothy called The Community of Truth.]