Sunday, 12 November 2017
…although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. 1 Timothy 1:13
Paul now contrasts his state in Christ to his life before Christ. He just said in verse 12, “He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry.” In contrasting words, he explains his life as a Pharisee, and as a strict adherent to the Law of Moses, saying words which place Christ Jesus as the object of his words. He begins with, “although I was formerly a blasphemer.”
As an observant Pharisee, how could he be a blasphemer? Unless Christ is the end of the law for all who believe, which He is, this couldn’t be the case. But in failing to come to Christ, he had rejected the entire purpose of the law. His words here show that adherence to the law is enmity with the Lord! The two are incompatible. God cannot smile upon one who attempts to be justified by the deeds of the law when Christ has fulfilled that law. It is blasphemy to attempt to do so.
After this, he says he was “a persecutor.” The first word, blasphemer, applies to his conduct toward God. This word now applies to his conduct towards God’s people. The word he uses, dióktés, is only found here. It is a person who pursues and hunts down another. His actions in this regard are well described in the book of Acts.
And then next, he says that he was “an insolent man.” This word, hubristés, is found only here and in Romans 1:30. One can see the modern word “hubris” in it. It indicates “someone ‘damaging’ others by lashing out with a nasty spirit.” It is someone who revels in hurting others. Again, as noted above, Paul uses these words to describe himself as a man strictly adhering to the Law of Moses.
How is it that those who feel they are right with God by adhering to the law think that they are acceptable to God? Such is not the case. It shows that all, including law-observers, are in need something else. It is something that Paul says he found with the words, “…but I obtained mercy.” One who obtains mercy is a person who needed mercy. Paul found this, despite his wretched condition. Through the law comes the knowledge of sin, but in Christ both grace and mercy are found. Paul then qualifies his statement by saying, “because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.”
The word “ignorantly” gives the sense of lacking the proper knowledge of the matter. He looked at the law as a means to an end, failing to see that Christ is the end of the law. His efforts were intended to please God through the law, and through destroying those who were not in conformity with it. But he found that he was the one who was in the wrong. It was those he persecuted who were adhering to the “fulfilled law” found in Christ. The law wasn’t a means to an end, it was ended.
Paul’s words here are contemplated by some to indicate that ignorance of a law will lead to a mitigation of the punishment, or even complete forgiveness of the penalty for infractions of the law. This is not Paul’s intent here. Though it is true that those who sin in ignorance may receive a lessening of punishment, it is not true that one will stand guiltless for ignorant violations of the law. Atonement of sin must be granted, and that can only be found in Christ the Lord. Those not covered in Christ will be judged accordingly.
Life application: In Christ, even the worst of offenses can be forgiven. If you have a sin which wears you down because of its enormity, you must realize that it has been forgiven if you have come to Him. Do not be so presumptuous as to assume that your sin is greater than His ability to forgive. Cast away the feeling of guilt, and replace it with an attitude of confidence in your forgiveness, and of praise for how it came about!
Lord God, at times we bear a heavy guilt in our hearts for things we have done against You. But Your word tells us that in Christ we are forgiven, completely and wholly, for such things. Help us never to think in such a twisted way as to assume that our misdeeds are greater than Your mercy which is found in Christ. Instead, help us to simply be grateful for our cleansing, and filled with praises for what You have accomplished through Him. Amen.