1 Timothy is part of a group of Paul’s letters known as the ‘Pastoral Epistles’. It was written towards the end of Paul’s life to a young church leader and is full of practical theology. Paul deals with the basic doctrines of the Christian faith that Timothy was to teach and the way in which he should conduct his ministry. Several times in these letters Paul uses the expression ‘This is a trustworthy saying.’ We will consider one of them in 1 Timothy 1:15 Christ’s saving mission.
1. The reliability of the saying
This saying contains the heart of the gospel. Why is it ‘trustworthy’? Not because it is the product of human wisdom, but because it explains the saving plan of the God who is trustworthy. The unchanging nature of God is spelled out in James 1:17 ‘with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow’. One implication is the unchanging nature of his grace to his people: ‘I the Lord do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed’ (Malachi 3:6). We also have an unchanging Saviour – ‘Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and for ever’ (Hebrews 13:8). This statement about Christ and his saving work has survived the test of centuries of experience. It deserves ‘full acceptance’ – it is to be received with faith, entrusting ourselves to the One spoken of here.
2. The content of the saying
(a). ‘Christ Jesus’: ‘Christ’ is the Messiah on whom the hopes of the people of God centred (Isaiah 61:1). The Scriptures show that the messiah will be God (Isaiah 9:6; Psalm 110:1). ‘Jesus’ means ‘Saviour’ (Matthew 1:21), a Saviour who is fully human.
(b). ‘came into the world’: the mystery and wonder of the incarnation. ‘The Word became flesh’ (John1:14). The eternal Son shared our nature (without sin). He came into a world alienated from God (1 John 5:19) and that rejected him. The supreme act of God’s grace was Christ’s death on the cross (Philippians 2:6-8).
(c). ‘to save sinners’: he came ‘to give his life a ransom for many’ (Mark 10:45). The gravity of sin against a holy God required that the Messiah must suffer and die in the place of those he saves. His blood has made atonement for all their sins. He saves – rescues from guilt, from slavery to sin, from deserved punishment. In place of alienation, wrath and eternal death we receive righteousness, freedom, blessedness, eternal life.
3. The application of the saying
This saying is not given for abstract consideration but requires personal application. Note Paul’s recognition of his need of the Saviour – ‘of whom I am the worst’. He spells it out in v13, and then speaks of God’s superabounding grace in v14. It is essential that we all come to the point of recognising our plight: ‘all have sinned’ (Romans 3:23). Do we recognise our true condition and the need Christ alone can meet? This is not for the self-righteous. If you admit you are a sinner, there is hope since Christ died for sinners.