Appointed to Serve – 1 Timothy 1:12-17
Scholars have debated for years as to whether 1 Timothy was written by the apostle Paul or one of his devout followers. Ordinarily, Paul includes a thanksgiving for the work of the group he is writing to, but in this case, the author is thanking God for strength and for God appointing him to God’s service. He is grateful for mercy, grace, faith and love imparted to him through Jesus. If the author was Paul, he was attempting to paint a picture of his former self as a blasphemer, persecutor and a man of violence. The focus of the letter is on the in-breaking work of Christ in his life.
When we meet someone today via written correspondence, e-mail, twitter, facebook or face-to-face, we generally ask: (child) What do you want to be when you grow up? (new colleague) What specific line of work do you follow? (at a party) If you could do any kind of work you choose, what would be your dream job? Work, jobs, career, occupation, profession. Whether we love it or hate it, a lot of people spend at least 1/3 or more of their waking hours working for someone else. This is called a job. Unless you have been blessed with a humongous trust, have an oil rig in your backyard or your last name is TRUMP, you will spend a lot of time working. How do you find the best job for you; your dream job? That is definitely a challenge! Some have jobs as candy testers, wine tasters, and even a resort water slide tester! How do you get a job like these and what are the qualifications? What would you put on your resume’ to catch a potential employer’s attention? I wonder, where was I when the cushy jobs were being created?
Paul or his understudy makes the statement, “Appointed me to his service.” Did you ever want to interview Paul for his job as a preacher and apostle? His job (as it were) allowed him to write letters, travel by boat, on a donkey, in an ox-cart and on foot–to places all over the world, even major cities and the seat of the Roman Empire. He spoke to thousands of people during his career, and as spokesman for a new movement, he established adherents wherever he went. He spoke to people of all economic levels, to the humble and the proud, to servants and even kings. He visited homes, synagogues and palaces–and–spent some personal time in jail on numerous occasions! Through it all Paul is judged to be faithful, as he tells everyone about good news: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (v.15).
Paul definitely did not get his job because he had always been faithful, pious and Christian. In fact, Paul was probably the last guy in the world you would have predicted to pursue a career requiring him to leave his Jewish faith and occupation of Pharisee. No one could have guessed that Saul would embrace the radical teachings of a controversial Jewish subversive who would be executed by the Romans. If Saul had applied for the job of being an example to those who would come to believe in Jesus for eternal life, he would have been the least likely to get the job. Who in their right mind would hire a blasphemer, persecutor and man of violence to serve as an example to others?
As Saul, he clearly demonstrated leadership abilities. Shortly after Christ’s death and resurrection, he was able to mobilize supporters to help him murder Christians, torture disciples of Jesus, and slaughter innocent people. If he could not find others to carry out the job of making Christians’ lives miserable, then he was happy to do the job himself. He was a diligent worker who was not shy about sharing his convictions and followed through. He chased Christians from village to village boldly. He was confident that his reputation would speak for him. People literally shook at the mention of his name. He sought to destroy the hopes and dreams of early Christians and did his job well! If he was asked to write a resume’ on what his greatest attribute was, he could have said, “I am your worst nightmare. I am a man of violence.” As a bearer of peace, Saul’s name would never have been submitted. And yet, God saw more in Paul than he saw in himself. When considering who to call to promote peace and justice, to be an example of compassion, caring and a model of the gospel, God somehow “judged Paul as faithful and appointed him to the service of Jesus Christ.” God saw more in Paul than his past and did not define Paul by his resume’. His past was not to be his future. God can make all things new, open the door to new life and invite people like Paul (and us) in.
If God can transform a Saul into Paul and appoint to God’s service “a mean-spirited, blaspheming man of violence like Saul”–what are we waiting for? Paul says he is a follower of Jesus, not because of his upstanding behavior in the past but because of God’s mercy and grace. God understands that Paul acted in unbelief but is now ready to receive God’s forgiveness. It is Paul’s experience within, and turning away from God, that makes him appreciate the gifts of God’s mercy and kindness even more. It was Paul’s shameful past behavior that made him an ideal candidate for a future in forgiveness and redemption. Who knows more about creating secure banks than a former bank robber? Former conmen know how to beat the system (at least for awhile). Perhaps that knowledge can be put to good use as in Paul’s case. He knew that he had done some things for which he wanted God’s forgiveness and he knew what it meant to “fall short of the glory of God”(Romans 3:23). Paul certainly did not lead a life that earned God’s trust. He did not act like a disciple, follower or believer of Jesus–in fact, he was exactly the opposite. But the reality is, Paul was still called by God! This is mercy–to be forgiven not because of human action but because God chooses to forgive. This is gracebecause God can see more in Paul than Paul can see in himself. Paul has the awakening, the ah-ah experience that he is in a perfect position to talk about the value of God’s forgiveness and mercy. He has personally experienced these gifts himself and understands their value. This becomes good news for any of us who would dismiss our chances to be judged faithful or to be a disciple of Jesus; for those who have determined themselves to be hopeless cases, for all who feel like giving up; for all who feel they do not know enough about the Bible to be an active, committed follower of Jesus.
God wants us to know that our past definitely does not dictate our future. Because of God’s mercy, we are not victims of our resume’s. Our past does not have the final word. God will give us the best job, our dream job. God will create something new out of us. We might not be asked to travel by boat (I was hoping for a cruise), donkey or on foot all over the world. We won’t be invited to stay out of prisons. That was Paul’s job. We have been appointed to serve and it is our job to determine where God needs us to go to share the good news of mercy, grace, forgiveness and love. To God be the glory!