I Tim. 1:12–17
14th Sunday after Pentecost – 9/11/2022
Ever feel like you are out of your league, not quite qualified or equipped emotionally, mentally, physically, or even morally to carry out the function, task, job, or responsibility that has been thrust upon you? You look at others around you and think, "I just can’t believe that out of all these other people, I’m the one charged with doing this! "I can think of any number of people more qualified than me." Any one of them is in a better position and is better equipped to be doing this than me!"
I can tell you that’s happening to me right now! Even after 37 years in pastoral ministry, I'm still amazed that I'm in this position to preach to you all. Who am I, of all people, to presume to have such privilege? I'm just the milkman's son! For real! Oh, yes, I’ve got diplomas on the wall of my office that testify that I went to university and seminary and earned several academic degrees. So what! Some of you may have even more diplomas than me. Besides, as they say, I was not the sharpest pencil in the box. I did not write the best papers. I do not have the elocution and rhetorical skills of Oswald Hoffman. I cannot even begin to pretend that I am on the same theological or intellectual plane as the Apostle Paul or Martin Luther. Then, too, I’m certainly no paragon of virtue such that I should presume to judge or admonish others for their sin. Who am I to provide counsel to others with messed-up lives when my own life is full of skeletons, empty promises, and wicked thoughts, words, and deeds?
And yet, here I am, a pastor in the Lord’s church! And there you have it... elders, teachers, and a variety of servants in the Lord's house! And here we all are in various vocations that would have been almost unimaginable to us 10, 20, 30, or 40 years ago. We are husbands and wives, fathers and mothers. We have been granted positions of responsibility in our community.
Given our weaknesses, shortcomings, and often total ineptness, how can we account for this? What possibly could qualify us for such service?
Believe me, nothing can destroy one’s confidence or eagerness to carry out his or her office or task more than the feeling of being unqualified or ill-equipped. It’s a real job killer. Such feelings neuter our ability to carry out our tasks. We often talk about "burnout." I'd wager that nine times out of ten, the overwhelming feeling that we simply cannot continue in our jobs... or that we no longer have any passion for our tasks does not stem from having work that is simply too difficult or abundant. Rather, I would say that it has to do with the fact that we just feel too weak, too inept, to carry out the agenda before us.
As we see in our Epistle Reading today, we are in good company. We are in the company of the premiere apostle of the Lord. His name is Paul. There were plenty of times in his life and ministry that he shared our feelings of ineptness—a lack of proper qualifications. He, like us, felt the need to be empowered for his ministry, as well as simply living as a disciple of Christ.
Today, however, Paul shares with us the secret to the confidence, joy, peace, and enthusiasm with which he managed to carry out his ministry. Our text begins with Paul’s words of thanks to God for this empowerment. He says: "I thank Him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because He judged me faithful, appointing me to His service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent."
Did you hear the shock and awe in Paul’s voice when he said that God had appointed him, of all people, to be His servant of the Gospel, that is, to be an apostle of Christ? (v. 1) In his wildest dreams, Paul would never have imagined that he would be in the service of Jesus Christ. Just a decade or two before Paul penned these very words, if someone had said to him that he would one day be an apostle of Jesus, he would have told them they were totally mad. He probably would have thrown the person in prison on the grounds of blasphemy, just like he was doing already with everyone he could find that claimed to follow Jesus.
Yes, Paul was utterly astounded that he would be, as he wrote a few verses before our text, "entrusted with the Gospel (v. 11)." After all, doesn't it seem reasonable that God would not simply delegate such an eternally important task as preaching the gospel to anyone, especially someone who would make a mockery of the gospel through his sinful lifestyle or false theology? But the incredible thing is that God did exactly that; He entrusted Paul with His precious truths...His Gospel... the good news that God redeems sinners through His Son, Jesus Christ. As Paul acknowledges, that meant that no matter what Paul thought and felt—or anyone else, for that matter—God had graciously judged him of all people as being faithful. How do you argue with God? All Paul could say was, "Thanks be to God!"
This was a judgment in the heart of God, not a judgment in the reality of Paul’s life. It was God’s undeserved love and mercy that moved Him to judge Paul as "an apostle." Paul was not deserving of it. God truly had granted him unbelievable favor! He had literally "mercied" Paul. The Gospel of God’s Grace wasn’t just so many words from God’s mouth to his ears. It became truly tangible to Paul when the Lord called him to be His apostle.
Speaking of mercy on the unworthy, that is God’s whole plan of salvation in a nutshell, is it not? Look at our Gospel reading from Luke. Jesus tells a couple of parables revealing just how joyful God is to mercifully rescue, save, and bring into His fold of salvation the lost, pathetic, and the most unworthy of all. He is the shepherd willing to leave the 99 sheep and go after that one wayward, lost sheep. He is that woman who scours her whole house just to find that one lost coin.
This personal, tangible application of God’s grace to Paul is what energized him and gave him the strength to take the Gospel to all these foreign lands—to endure the scorn and badgering that came his way, the persecutions, and the outright rejections of his message from friends and foes alike. The same grace that provided him with a Savior from his sins in the flesh of Jesus was the same unbelievable grace of God that declared him faithful to be Jesus’ apostle.
Just contemplate the breadth and depth of God’s grace to Paul. God had truly and literally, as Paul said, "mercied" him. In Paul’s case, God was not simply calling into His ministry of the Gospel some ordinary believer in Israel. Paul, a.k.a. Saul, was by his admission a "blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent of Christ and His Gospel.
If you read of all of Paul’s exploits in the Book of Acts, then you know that you and I have nothing on Paul when it comes to being deserving of being a disciple of Jesus. Paul confessed at his trial before King Agrippa: "Many of the saints I shut up in prison. When they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. "And I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities" (Acts 26:10, 11). Paul harassed the believers in Christ, physically abused them, and persecuted them from one town to another. He might have done it all ignorantly in unbelief, but that did not make his sin any less contemptible and damnable. Paul even calls himself the "chief of sinners." Elsewhere: "the least of all the apostles" (I Cor. 15:9). And again, "less than the least of all the saints" (Eph. 3:8).
The beacon of God’s grace, then, could not shine any brighter than in Paul. The genius of God is made manifest here. Who better to proclaim the message of God’s underserved mercy than one whose calling exuded God’s mercy and grace? Paul became a living, breathing object lesson of God’s mercy and grace. How could anyone not see just how "patient" and gracious God is in that He was willing to endure, forgive, and appoint as His apostle this "chief of sinners"
So, yes, you and I can say it: "If God can save and even call into His service a sinner like Paul, then why should I not find comfort, hope, and strength in the fact that God, in that same grace, called me to be a believer in Christ... called me to share in the ministry of that grace by being a Christian husband or wife... father or mother... son or daughter... friend and neighbor... employee... congregational board member... elder... trustee of God’s house?"
Likewise, how dare you and I feel inadequate, unqualified, or too rotten of sinners to serve where God has placed us? This is the saying that is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, like Paul, like you, and like me.
Out of His mercy, God not only calls sinners to repentance and faith that they might be saved, but He also calls and appoints sinners to serve and minister the Gospel of Jesus Christ to others through their vocations, jobs, and church offices. Who better to preach about God's saving grace and to administer that saving grace in tangible service to others in this world than sinners like ourselves, who have experienced God's mercy firsthand and to the extreme?
We are, as we confess, "poor, unworthy sinners" who daily sin in every thought, word, and deed. Our unfaithfulness is easily visible to anyone who cares to look for it.
But thanks be to God, our worthiness as servants of Christ has nothing to do with our abilities, our good moral character, or our wonderful works. It’s all about grace. that undeserved mercy God has extended to us on the cross of Jesus! On the cross of Jesus, God graciously declares us "righteous," "forgiven," "holy," and even "faithful."
That declaration He makes to us over and over again is in the Word of Absolution we receive from His ordained servant and in that cup of blessing that contains the blood of Christ and that loaf of bread that is the body of Christ. By the same token, "Well done, good and faithful servant" from God is not a statement of acknowledgment of what you and I have done, but it is a congratulatory word declaring what God graciously judges to be true for you and me on account of Jesus Christ.
God judges you and me faithful in Jesus Christ by extending avenues to serve Him ought to not only fill us with fervent zeal to serve God but also ought to move us to join our voices in praise to that of St. Paul:
"To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen."