The Text: 1 Timothy 1:12-17
Found By Grace, Filled With Gratitude
A little girl lost in a big store came up to someone and said, “My Mummy is lost; I can’t find her.” We know, of course, that it’s the child whom the mother has lost. She has no doubt been searching frantically for her lost daughter. There are many people all around us who are not aware they’re lost to the Kingdom of Heaven until they’re found by Jesus.
One Saturday morning, a visitor knocks on the door of a pastor’s home and asks, “Have you found Jesus?” The pastor replies: “Oh, I didn’t know He was lost.” A better question might have been: “Has Jesus found you?”
What an unsurpassed joy it is when the message becomes true of the hymn:
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind but now I see.
St. Paul didn’t know he was lost until our risen Lord interrupted his “search-and-eliminate-Christians” plans on the road to Damascus. He was so sure he was doing the right thing by seeking to destroy the rapidly growing community of Christ. Paul had seen the tenacious nature of faith in Christ, in someone like St. Stephen who courageously and amazingly prayed for those who were killing him, “Lord, forgive them for this sin.” A faith like that had to be stamped out, Paul had thought. As well as cursing Jesus, Paul had shown no mercy to our Lord’s loyal followers, beating them and throwing them in prison. Paul was the most passionate persecutor of Christians back then.
Every Christian at that time would have considered Paul to be the most unlikely person to be converted to Christianity. None of them would have dreamed Paul might become Christ’s greatest advocate and most effective missionary. But then, God’s grace does surprising things. Paul had no idea that Jesus identifies so closely with what happens to His persecuted people. Jesus asks Paul, not “why are you persecuting Christians?”, but “Why are you persecuting Me?” Until that day on the road to Damascus, Jesus had shown great patience to Paul. On that life-changing day, Jesus showed outstanding mercy to His greatest opponent, a man who had treated Jesus’ followers so un-mercifully.
That day, Paul discovered how astonishing and how totally undeserved is the grace of Christ. He spent the rest of his life praising and thanking God for His grace whenever he could. He now gives our Lord the credit for everything good he achieves. His missionary achievements far outweigh those of all the other apostles, but he attributes it all to grace. “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them – though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me (1 Corinthians 15:10).”
It’s beyond comprehension that Jesus should choose for his primary spokesman, someone who had been such a terrible sinner. But Paul learned that, “Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more (Romans 5:20).” Paul is Exhibit “A” for the way the grace of Christ can completely change and transform our lives. If there’s hope for Paul, there’s hope for us all. If there’s hope for Paul, the chief of sinners, there’s hope for everyone else. “The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the foremost (1 Timothy 1:15).”
Paul calls this marvellous summary of the Gospel “a statement that is completely reliable”, that is, a fundamental and unshakeable truth that we can stake our whole lives and our eternal future on. The most saintly Christians are those who are the most conscious of their sins. They’re aware of the big gap between what they profess and what they practice, and plead for God’s help to narrow the gap. Their constant prayer is, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” They feel that it is a much more fruitful activity to do something about their own sins, rather than focus on the sins of others. For those who have been Christians for most of their lives, their own sins appear greater than the sins of others. There’s good reason for this. We don’t know the hearts and minds of others as well as we know our own hearts and minds.
St. Paul invites all of us to “in all humility, regard others as better than yourselves (Philippians 2:3).” Paul practised what he preached. Not only did he consider all the other apostles better than he, but he also considered all other Christians as better than he was. Such an attitude couldn’t but help to contribute to the effectiveness of his ministry. That’s why Paul saw it as a privilege to serve others and see Christ in them. Ever since our risen Lord appeared to Paul on the way to Damascus, Paul could never look another Christian in the eye without seeing our Saviour there. Christians know that they have defects and failings which are unknown to others, and which they have no right to suppose that others have also. On the other hand, we see in others, virtues that we do not yet possess. Overwhelmed by our Lord’s goodness and grace to us, we thank God for all the good qualities, gifts and virtues we see in others.
Our Lord’s forgiveness and grace is truly praiseworthy and astonishing for all the changes it can bring about in us. His forgiveness can heal the painful memories sin causes. He promises to no longer remember the sins He has forgiven. Forgiveness takes the sting out of the memory of sin. Our forgiven sins leave a print on our memories, but unforgiven sins leave a wound.
Christ brings His cross to our altar to give to each of you personally its gracious and merciful benefits. Where the forgiveness of Jesus won for you on the cross is gratefully treasured and embraced, the sting of sin is gone from one’s memory. There’s nothing left but a disappearing scar. Your sin has become an event of the past.
Paul’s recollection of his past has little pain for him, because his overwhelming focus is on what lies ahead. “I am focussing all my energies on this one thing: forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead (Philippians 3:13).” We often wish that the stain sins leaves on our memory could be purged away immediately. All of us have much in our lives we wish we could forget. But God lets some memories of past faults and failures remain as a barrier against future sin. God uses these memories to equip us to serve Him more sensitively. It makes us more sympathetic to the failings of others. “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” Ask God to heal you of those memories that come back to haunt you in the middle of the night. Hand them over to Him so they can no longer ruin your peace of mind. “Cast all your cares on Him, for He cares for you (1 Peter 5:7).” The truth is that when we’re forgiven, our sins cease to haunt us. They can’t be recalled without great effort. It is only an unforgiven sin whose stain stays. “Be forgiven and forget,” and live in the sunshine of God’s mercy.
The miracle of God’s grace is that it can make and keep each one of us as His treasured servants, despite our short tempers, depression, discontent and failure to pray as we ought. St. Paul was endlessly grateful that Jesus trusted him to be His spokesman to the nations. Trust is always a risk. Our Lord has no qualms about taking a risk with us. He’s prepared to be disappointed by how we serve Him from time to time, in the hope that each time He picks us up after we fall, we will grow closer to Him. Our greatest asset will be our longing to have Jesus become more and more a part of our daily lives.
Franz was dying. His daughter Lena asked him, “Father, are you thinking of Jesus?” Franz replied that when he could no longer think of Jesus, Jesus was thinking of him. That’s the good news it gives me great joy to share with you this morning: Jesus thinks of you more than you could imagine or dream. Your Lord remembers you even when you’re too busy or too tired to think of Him. He remembers you with deepest love and tenderness. One church I know of has written over the back of its pews: “Be Patient – God Is Not Yet Finished With Me.” God is in less of a hurry than we are. “The Lord isn’t being slow to carry out His promises as anybody else might be called slow; but God is being patient with you all, wanting nobody to be lost, but everyone to be brought to change their ways (2 Peter 3:9).”
Jesus is God’s patience in human form. He showed admirable patience with the twelve slowest learners in Israel, so that there can be hope for all the rest of us. No farmer expects to receive a harvest in the same month his crop was sown. Jesus didn’t look for quick results from His preaching and teaching. He’s prepared to wait patiently for His harvest of fruits – joy, peace, patience, faithfulness, goodness and kindness – from your life. The grace of Christ has found you and will go with you on your journey through this life. That same grace can keep alive in you, a gratitude that never stops overflowing with joy.
Hearts, hands and voices that continually thank God for His amazing grace, have discovered a joy that has the taste of eternity about it.
From 1 Timothy 1:17, “To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory forever and ever. Amen.