In Paul’s first letter to his true son in the faith, Timothy, he told him, “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. 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.”
In what sense is Paul a pattern for those who believe on Jesus? In other Bible passages, we learn that it is good for Christians to imitate Paul’s conduct as he imitates the Christ (Philippians 4:9; 1 Corinthians 11:1). In the context of the first chapter of the book of 1 Timothy, however, Paul stands out as a pattern of a different sort. What kind of pattern is that? Let us see what we can learn from 1 Timothy.
Paul’s past – In speaking about the kind of person he was before he became a Christian, Paul wrote, “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). So, in his former days Saul of Tarsus was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent (“insolent” means arrogant, rude, or disrespectful; www.yourdictionary.com).
Paul’s need – He needed something that no human could supply. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), and for one who made it his mission to destroy the Christ’s church (Galatians 1:23), there is no way that Saul deserved the forgiveness of sins. Yet, that is just what he received. How was that even possible?
Staying in the context of 1 Timothy 1:16, go back and look at verse thirteen again: “. . . but I obtained mercy . . .” [all underlining is mine, rdc].
Paul said, “And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant . . .” (1:14).
Furthermore, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1:15).
Again, Paul declared that Jesus had shown him “all longsuffering” (1:16).
The Lord of heaven and earth provided for Paul what no human could supply – mercy (1:13), grace (1:14), a Savior (1:15), and longsuffering (1:16). It was because of the Lord and His goodness that Paul could be saved, and Paul gave credit to Whom credit was due: “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen” (1:17).
Paul’s reception of God’s gift – Everlasting life is a gift from God (Romans 6:23). According to 1 Timothy 1:16, everlasting life is for those who believe on the Christ. Paul was such a believer, so forgiveness was granted to him.
In general terms, salvation/eternal life is granted to those who “believe.” The message of 1 Timothy 1:16 and John 3:16 makes that clear. The Bible also says that Jesus is the author of eternal salvation “to all who obey Him” (Hebrews 5:9). Thus, the believer who is saved is one who is obedient to God’s Son. Jesus also stated that a person who keeps His word shall never see death, meaning he will enjoy eternal life (John 8:51). Once more, what must the conclusion be? That eternal life is granted to those who submit to the Christ.
The Bible affirms that eternal life is in God’s Son (1 John 5:11). In Bible language, salvation is in the Christ (2 Timothy 2:10). So is redemption (Ephesians 1:7), no condemnation (Romans 8:1), and all spiritual blessings (Ephesians 1:3).
When Paul learned about Jesus of Nazareth being the Savior of the world and Provider of mercy and grace, what did he do to get into the spiritual realm know as “in Christ?” He was baptized into Him (Romans 6:3,4).
Paul as a pattern – What does his case show? Not that ignorant people are “safe” in their sin and not accountable to God. Sin committed in ignorance is still sin that requires forgiveness (Acts 3:15-19).
No, Paul’s case shows that everlasting life is granted to people who come to the Lord on His terms, regardless of their background. Paul’s example demonstrates that God is longsuffering toward all (2 Peter 3:9), and His mercy and grace are available to save and able to save even those who initially reject the gospel of the Lord.
Can a blasphemer be forgiven? Paul was. Can a persecutor of God’s people be forgiven? Paul was. Can one whose heart is filled with envy and hatred be forgiven? Paul was (Titus 3:3).
If that kind of fellow, the kind Paul had been, can receive God’s grace, mercy, and gift of everlasting life, every person in the whole world should say, “I guess there is hope for me after all!”
— Roger D. Campbell