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The Call to Ministry
Sermon by Chris Temple
12 And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, 13 although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. 14 And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. 15 This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.
In his letter first letter to Timothy, the Apostle Paul’s concern is to teach and strengthen the young pastor in his new ministerial position in Ephesus. First Timothy is a practical letter containing pastoral instruction from the apostle Paul to Timothy. In 1Tim 3:14-15 Paul writes this:
14These things I write to you, though I hope to come to you shortly; 15 but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth (1Tim 3:14-15).
Since Timothy was well versed in Paul’s theology, the apostle had no need to give him extensive doctrinal instruction. This epistle does, however, express many important theological truths, such as the proper function of the law (1:5-11), salvation (1:14-16; 2:4-6); the attributes of God (1:17); the Fall (2:13,14); the person of Christ (3:16; 6:15,16); divine election (6:12); and the second coming of Christ (6:14,15).
In I Tim 1:12-15 Paul uses a part of his own testimony as a means of encouragement to the young Timothy. In essence he says to Timothy “Take heart. You are in a tough place but no place is too tough for our Lord Jesus Christ. Though there are many in your city--even your congregation which has come from diverse and sinful backgrounds-who oppose Christ and the gospel, do not fear nor be dismayed, God’s grace is sufficient, and He will provide all you need to be a faithful minister of the gospel”.
Take heart. Paul says I, who am your spiritual father in the faith and your teacher and mentor, was once also a false teacher. Although Paul had impeccable Jewish credentials as a Pharisee of Pharisees, there was a time when he did not know Christ, or the truth of God’s gospel of grace. It took a special act of God’s wonderful, merciful, calling grace on a Damascus road to blind Paul physically, literally knock him from his high horse, and to open his eyes spiritually to the person of Jesus Christ and His gospel of grace.
In Paul’s testimony of 1:12-15, he gives us a message of incredible hope of forgiveness and of mercy and of the call to ministry. Although in context it is a call to the special gospel ministry, its truths are applicable to every person whom God calls to belief in Jesus Christ.
What of you, hearer? Do you think that you can never approach the living God because of your sins? Do you fall into the category of sins in verses 1:9-10; the lawless and insubordinate, the ungodly sinners, the unholy and profane, murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, manslayers, fornicators, sodomites, kidnappers, liars, perjurers? If you think you cannot approach the living God as a sinner-well, you are right. But take heart, for God in His mercy and grace approaches you. Is there a sin bigger than the grace of God? Is there a sin that God will not forgive, in those he calls to himself?
NO. Christ tells us:
28“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matt 11:28-30).
If you hear Christ’s voice calling, if you feel your heart burning, if you desire God and his forgiveness and peace in Christ, come to Him, and He will wonderfully and joyfully embrace you, and forgive you, and adopt you, and enable you to serve Him in love and thankfulness.
Paul understood this very well. In this I Timothy passage we can see four major points about Christ and the calling of the Christian, especially to the special gospel ministry.
Christ is the Creator and Enabler of Ministry
First we see that Christ is the creator and enabler of ministry. One does not choose Christian ministry as one of many career option. One does not search the classifieds and say, “Let’s see … plumber … electrician … dry cleaner … teacher … Oh, yes, I like this: servant of Christ.” No, Christian ministry is not a job, not a career, but a calling from the very Creator, the Author and Finisher of our faith, the Lord Jesus Christ. Just like the old Army ad said, “it’s not a job, it’s an adventure!”
Paul says, “And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me.” To whom does Paul give thanks? To the Ephesians? To the Jews? To himself, for being smart enough to choose Christ? No. He thanks Christ Jesus, the Lord of all, for calling him and enabling him. The Greek word translated enabled in the NKJV, and strengthened in the NASB, literally means empowered. Christ empowered and strengthened Paul to be able to enter into ministry and to be fruitful in it.
If the Lord has not called us, if the Lord has not chosen us, if the Lord has not commissioned us for ministry, the ministry will fail. That is because our power, our strength, our abilities do not come from us, but are gifts and works of the Holy Spirit in us for the purpose of God’s glory.
In Ephesians chapter 5 we do not read about the fruits of the Christian, but the fruits of the Spirit. They are the results of the Spirit of God working in and through the Christian. The ability to do anything for the glory of God comes from the power of God whose purpose it is to show forth His glory in the redemption of men. Paul understood this well when he wrote:
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13).
Paul said I can do all things only by and through Him, Jesus who is the supplier of strength to the Christian. The flip side of that is the negative statement of truth, “I can do nothing apart from the strengthening of Christ.” If we in our sinfulness, our selfishness try to do good things for God apart from the grace of Christ, it is doomed to failure. That is why Jesus said:
“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
Have you tried to do good things for God apart from Christ? It can’t be done. Have you relied on self and talent and commitment rather than the power and calling of Jesus? Talent and commitment are needed in ministry, but only when they are gifts of the Lord. Apart from Him, we can do nothing. Jesus Christ is the creator and enabler of the ministry and the minister.
Christ Exhibits Mercy Upon Those Whom He Calls
Next we see that Jesus Christ exhibits mercy upon those whom He calls. Paul says in 1:12b “He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry.” This does not mean He saw Paul as faithful to God and so He would use him in ministry. Quite the contrary, Paul tells us in 1:13 that he was “formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy.” A blasphemer, a persecutor and an insolent man is not one in whom God sees faithfulness. And such was Paul as a Christian-persecuting Pharisee.
The Greek word translated counted literally means to lead or led. The phrase has more the meaning that Christ considered it in His own best interest to lead the Pharisee Paul to faith, knowing that Paul’s great mind and wisdom of Jewish law (also gifts of God) would serve Christ well in the ministry Christ had ordained for him. God’s sovereign purpose for Paul and for all believers works through the gift of personal faith. Until Paul was turned by the Holy Spirit from self-righteous works (see Phil. 3:4-7) to faith alone in Christ, he could not be used by God. He was in the same condition as the useless false teachers mentioned in 1:6-7.
We read of Paul’s conversion in Acts chapter 9:
1Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. 4Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” 5And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” 6So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” Then the Lord said to him, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” 7And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one. 8Then Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened he saw no one. But they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank (Acts 9:1-9).
I have a great affinity for the apostle Paul and his conversion. Paul was already a grown man with a well-established career path he was following when the Lord graciously and powerfully interrupted his plans and called him on the Damascus road. Though not as awesomely dramatic, my calling on my own Damascus road was just as interrupting, and nonetheless miraculous.
I grew up in a middle-class New Jersey family in the 1960s. My mother was a lifelong Irish catholic and my father an agnostic protestant. Being one of four children of a catholic mother, catholic teaching was such that the children had to be brought up in the Catholic Church. So I was raised catholic and spent Kindergarten through 8th grade in the Catholic Church.
By the time I had reached 9th grade, I had no further use for the church or religion. We received no religious training at home; we did not pray together, we had a big red family Bible that sat unopened in a hall closet which was never read (in the early 60s Catholics were first allowed to possess a Bible). The only religious training I received was at catechism in catholic school and the rituals of the catholic mass.
In all those years in catholic school and church I never once heard the gospel of Christ. We heard of Christ, heard about Christ, but never heard the work and desire of Christ. We learned how to pray rosaries and Hail Mary’s and attend mass and say confession and pray to saints, but we never heard the gospel. Jesus died on the cross to show everyone that God was a God of love; we never heard that He atoned for His people’s sins and that those who called upon the name of the Lord were forgiven forever of their sins. Salvation was by works, by doing more good than evil.
So I entered high school and grew into full-blown paganism. I ditched God. I forgot God. I packed Him away in some far away bookshelf, leaving Him out of my life. There were plenty of religions I thought, and they all teach the same thing. If God existed, He didn’t care much for this world as the world was in pretty bad shape. I let my own self-existence and the desires of my flesh become God. These were the things which concerned me most. Just as Paul testified in 1 Tim 1:13, I was “a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man.” I blasphemed God in my speech and sin, I persecuted the Lord Jesus Christ by mockery of His church, and I was insolently wrapped up and within myself as center of the universe.
When I entered college, not knowing really what I wanted to do, I majored in biology (after short-terms as a psychology and sociology major). Even then I liked hard facts and knowledge, and I settled on study in the hard sciences. I learned about anthropology and biology and evolution and believed all of what was taught me in a secular, godless college-well most if it. There was something about this evolution which didn’t seem right (I remembered some remnant of the creation story), yet I accepted it. If science taught it, well, it must be true.
After college I got a job in a large biomedical company working on medical test kits and other products. Before this I had married Roberta, moved to North Carolina, and we soon had Kaitlin our daughter. Life seemed to be moving in the normal American pattern of life. I loved my wife and family. By the world’s standards I was a good man. Yet I was miserable. I was unsatisfied and unfulfilled at work. I had a terrible temper. I had a lousy attitude about life. Yet life went on and I guess I was stuck trying to make the best of it. I dreaded Mondays and lived for weekend to weekend, and from vacation to vacation.
Such is life without Christ. The unbeliever says, “what do I need salvation for? I’m happy. I have a wife, and kids, and a job, and a house. Life’s great. Sure, I’m not completely satisfied. Yes, there is a hole inside of me needing to be filled, but I don’t know what will do it. But I’m fine.”
We don’t see our sinful state. We think we’re free without Christ, free from demands, free from religion. Free from everything that would place demands upon our autonomy. We don’t see ourselves as blasphemers, as persecutors, and as insolent men; Yet the lost is not free, but a slave. He is a slave to sin. A slave to the flesh. Man who was created to glorify God and enjoy Him forever only wants to enjoy and glorify himself. We are in our lost state, as 1 Tim 1:11 tells us, “the lawless and insubordinate, the ungodly and the sinners, the unholy and profane.”
So I was not seeking God one cold December morning in 1994. I was married 8 years. For 7 years I drove to work every morning past Gorman Baptist church in Durham, North Carolina on my way to work. At Christmas time they erect a large Bible display in their parking lot. It is very large-8 or 9 feet tall-and looks like an open Bible. On its pages is one verse: Luke 2:11 (KJV) “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” I drove past that display 7 Christmases in a row, seeing it and paying it no heed. Yet this Christmas would be different.
As I passed the sign that cold December morning, I read it, and the Holy Spirit opened my eyes and caused me to see it for the first time, and what it said. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. I knew what it said, and I knew what it meant. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, was born for me. For me! I was changed. I was different. I was born from above. In John 3:3 Jesus says, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
At that moment I knew that Jesus Christ, the Christ I knew little of in Catholicism but of Christmas manger scenes and catechism stories, that Jesus Christ was Lord of heaven and Lord of earth, and I was an unholy sinner in His sight, and I needed forgiveness. I pulled my vehicle over to the side of the road and wept. I cried “Lord forgive me! I know who you are, and I need your forgiveness!” I didn’t fully understand it then, but that was my Damascus road conversion. After that God whisked me along into a new life, which is His promise-the Christian life of Christ as Lord, and I as servant to him. I no longer sat on the throne of my life, but Christ showed me clearly that He alone was Lord all along.
Soon after, I entered Bible studies. I joined church. I joined ministry. And God gave me a burning desire to know His word and to know Him. There was never any turning back. I was born anew from above. Did I become “Super-Christian” at the moment of my conversion? No way! Am I one now? No. But the new birth had better exhibit new life. As it says in Phil 1:6:
”being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil 1:6).
Our sanctification, the process of being conformed to the very image of Christ, is a lifelong process that is only complete when the Lord returns, when we are made perfect and sinless in him. Nevertheless, as pastor Alistair Begg has said, God did not save us so that we can limp along through life in a miserable Christian existence! He did not say “I have come to give them life, and give it to them miserably; No! But rather he has said:
“I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).
The Savior gave his life for the sheep so that we would, “count it all joy when you fall into various trials” (Jam 1:2), and that we, when we pray we can:
“always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now” (Phil 1:4-5).
We are saved not only to be in Christ but to exhibit Christ to others.
Later on I was called to fulltime study and the voice of the Spirit was clear that I was called to fulltime ministry. So I stand before you today as a former unbeliever, who once ignored Christ and the things of Christ, who was on the dark road to hell, as one about to graduate Seminary and enter the pastorate for the glory of God. The grace of our Lord is exceedingly abundant.
Christ’s Grace is Abundant and Sufficient for All
The last two points we can look at quickly. We see that Christ’s grace is abundant and sufficient for all. Verse 14 tells us the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. Paul knew well that the grace of God exhibited in Christ Jesus was exceedingly abundant. It far exceeded all that which Paul was guilty of. It covered his blasphemy, which especially as a Pharisee was inexcusable for one dedicated to a godly life. The Greek word for blasphemy is blasphemos, blasphemy being a transliteration rather than a translation, and it literally means slanderous, evil-speaking. By speaking and acting against the faith in Christ, Paul was actually speaking evil of God.
God’s grace was also exceedingly abundant to forgive Paul as a persecutor and an insolent man. The Greek root words for persecutor and insolent man actually mean, respectively, “pursuing to the point of flight” and “to run riot, to outrage.”It portrays the Apostle as not merely an arrogant unbeliever but a pursuer, an aggressor, an exterminator of the faith. It is active rebellion and hatred against God.
There really is no neutral ground, no ambivalence against the faith. Jesus said:
“He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters” (Luke 11:23).
All disbelief is active aggression against the truth of God. Yet even in this, God’s grace covered Paul’s sins, and it covered mine, and if you are a believer, it covers yours as well. There is no sin which it does not cover. That is why John the Baptist proclaimed “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn 1:29). There is no sin of God’s people which grace does not cover.
His grace is exceedingly abundant. Why? Out of unmerited mercy which supplies faith to the believer and supplies love to the believer for the sake of Christ. Look at 1 Tim 1:16:
“However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life” (1Tim 1:16).
Paul was shown divine mercy in order to show that nothing good was in him, and to show the longsuffering of Christ, who waits for His own to be brought to Him by the grace of God in faith in the Father’s time. His grace covers the sins of the greatest sinner, not in the tiniest amount necessary, not in the smallest effort available, not in just getting the job done, but as an ocean of grace washes over a grain of sin, and as Heb 7:25 tells us:
“Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.” Heb 7:25
Christ saves to the uttermost those who come to Him. And He lives forever and ministers eternally at the throne of grace making constant petition for the saints of God. So it is nothing for blasphemers, and persecutors, and insolent men to be washed clean by the forgiveness of God in Christ Jesus.
There is No Sinner Whom Christ Cannot Save to Serve
So we can safely say that there is no sinner, who is unforgivable. Verse 15:
“This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (1Tim 1:15).
This is a faithful saying. It does not say, clean up yourself, and then come to Christ; rather it says come as you are, and the blood of Jesus will wash you white as snow. It does not say, until you can forgive yourself you cannot be forgiven; rather it says come to Christ and you will be forgiven, and then in the beauty of grace you can and will forgive others. It does not say but there is a sin so great that even God cannot forgive you; rather it says, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.”Conclusion
So as one who once was himself formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man, I, just as Paul, thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry. And I obtained mercy because I was ignorant in my unbelief. Yet the grace of our Lord is exceedingly abundant in covering my sins. That grace comes bearing the gift of faith in Christ Jesus, and the love that is in Him for His sheep, and enabling us to love Him, because He first loved us.
The same grace that calls persecutors and blasphemers to ministry is the same grace that saves all that come to Him in true faith. And every believer is called to some ministry, even if not fulltime. Paul tells us in Ephesians:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:8-10).
What else than the forgiving grace of God can call blasphemers into good works for God, which God alone has prepared? This is truly a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.
“Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen” (1Tim 1:17).
Note: All Scripture references are from the New King James Version. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982.
The above sermon was posted on this Web site June 11, 2002.
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