The inspired apostle Paul wrote thirteen letters that are preserved for us in the pages of the New Testament. In them, he gives various details about his life. While much of his life is detailed in the book of Acts, there is something about autobiographical statements that let us know how things affect a person. In writing to the young preacher Timothy, Paul took the time to explain just why he was so thankful to Jesus Christ. In doing this, Paul (with words) painted his self-portrait.
He first was thankful to Christ for counting him as trustworthy and making him a preacher (Timothy 1:12). Since Paul is writing to his “son in the faith,” it is obvious that he is trying to impress on Timothy the great blessing of being one who spreads the gospel. How beautiful are the feet of those that preach the gospel of peace (Romans 10:15)! Paul is thankful that he has been given the opportunity to teach others. He painted himself as a man who knew the blessing of proclaiming God’s word.
After expressing his thankfulness, he explains some of the reasons why he is so thankful. Previously, Paul was a blasphemer, one who spoke against Christ and by extension God. He was also a persecutor of both Christ and the church (Acts 9:1-5). In addition to those, he was also injurious to Christ and the church, causing them untold harm and speaking evil of them. But even after having done all of these things, Paul received mercy from the Lord. He says that the grace of the Lord was “exceedingly abundant.” This shows that not only is the grace of our Lord plentiful, but that it is far more than we could ever conceive. The mercy shown to him made him extremely grateful to the Lord. He painted himself as a man unworthy of being a preacher, but also painted himself as blessed by God’s forgiveness and mercy.
Paul then explains the reason he received that mercy and grace: Christ came into the world was to save sinners. Paul declared himself to be the chief (or greatest) sinner (I Timothy 1:15). Paul here paints himself as a humble man, knowing the terribleness of the deeds he had committed. He expresses that this grace was extended to him to show others the exceedingly abundant mercy of God and Christ (I Timothy 1:14). It was to show the longsuffering of Christ (I Timothy 1:16). It was done to be a pattern or example for all future believers: If Christ could forgive Paul–the chief of sinners–and show mercy on him, they could receive mercy as well. Timothy was reminded of this so that he could then proclaim this truth to others. Paul painted himself as a man blessed by the mercy of God.
Paul’s self-portrait becomes clear in this passage. He paints himself as a thankful man, blessed to preach the gospel. He also paints himself as one who knows he was unworthy because of his sins. This shows the humility with which he described himself. He then brightens the picture, painting himself as a recipient of God’s monumental grace. Paul’s self-portrait shows an extremely thankful man who knows the importance of the mercy and grace shown to him by God.
That is the apostle Paul. On multiple occasions, however, he told people to follow the example he left (I Corinthians 11:1, Philippians 3:17). Are you following the example of Paul? You have been given the opportunity to teach others. Are you thankful for those opportunities? The more important question is “Are you taking advantage of those opportunities, or wasting them?” You have been shown mercy by the Lord. Are you continually thankful for it as you should be? Thank God for His mercy and His gospel! Thank God for allowing us to teach others!