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Great Grace as a Pattern of Life

March 3rd, 2017

This statement is completely reliable and should be universally accepted:—“Christ Jesus entered the world to rescue sinners”. I realise that I was the worst of them all, and that because of this very fact God was particularly merciful to me. It was a kind of demonstration of the extent of Christ’s patience towards the worst of men, to serve as an example to all who in the future should trust him for eternal life. (1 Tim. 1:15-16 Phillips)

As we look into the qualifications of church leadership in chapter three of 1 Timothy, we may be surprised in what we do not see. There is no statement about being filled with the Spirit, or living the “Not I but Christ” life. Likewise nothing is said about the daily discipline of prayer, confession of sins, or even loving others. There can be no question but that these are necessary qualities of anyone who is seeking to serve the Lord, so why are they absent in chapter three?

The answer must be that (a) they have already been covered elsewhere by the apostle and (b) that this list is somewhat limited to focus mainly on those outward characteristics which are visible by the community of believers. It is specifically the way that Paul laid down the principle of redemption by grace in chapter one that I wish to emphasize today. In fact, this principle of grace is so important to realize as a foundational truth when considering the qualities of Christian leaders, that to look only at the outward characteristics and not on the inner qualities of spiritual life will lead us to the wrong people.

What Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:10 applies to all of us, that it is by the grace of God that we are what we are, and there can be no understanding any true Christian’s outward life except by the grace of God in his inner life.

In chapter one, the Apostle Paul laid down a principle that magnifies the power and grace of God, far over human achievements, even human achievements in the work of God. God and God alone owns the work of redemption in the sense of authorship and sponsorship. Paul had no pride in his former life, rather he was ashamed of it. He had been a violent man, the worst of sinners, yet his very unfitness for the work of redemption served as a “demonstration” of God’s patience and as an “example” to all who in the future would trust in Christ.

The words in the original language are strongly worded: pros hypotyposis. It is more than just a “one off” example, rather it speaks of a “type” or of a “pattern” which would for the remainder of the Church Age speak to all people about the magnitude of God’s grace. Albert Barnes wrote:

It denotes a pattern or example, and here it means that the case of Paul was an example for the encouragement of sinners in all subsequent times. It was that to which they might look when they desired forgiveness and salvation. It furnished all the illustration and argument which they would need to show that they might be forgiven. It settled the question for ever that the greatest sinners might be pardoned; for as he was “the chief of sinners,” it proved that a case could not occur which was beyond the possibility of mercy. (From Barnes’ New Testament Notes)

Considering that this “greatest of sinners” was teaching the church about the qualifications of leadership, we see that he continued from that day forth to stand in God’s grace. It was not only about forgiveness but also about living the Christian life, that from the day of his salvation onward, all of his life and all of his ministry for Christ could only be understood in terms of grace and the power of God in him. The pattern was elsewhere explained as the “Not I but Christ” life, and here he is merely emphasizing this life was his by the grace of God and through his faith. There was still no room for boasting, and that reality would continue for him and for all Christians for the remainder of time.

This is the pattern that God has given us, that everything good that we achieve in this earthly life, whether it is in our hearts, in our habits, or in our service, is due to the work of God’s grace in us and through us. The pattern of grace is that God takes those who are completely unworthy and unfit for salvation and for service for Him, and He forgives and transforms, and He indwells. All that we are or can ever hope to be for Him comes by grace.

This morning in Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest, he emphasized that the love of God comes from the eternal qualities of God. Love was “unmade” in Chambers’ words. He wrote,”It is impossible to weary God’s love, and it is impossible to weary that love in me if it springs from the one centre.” We are weakest when we seek to perform for Christ and not simply live in Him. If we live in Him we will find His love – the stuff of John 3:16 – being in us. And we will say like Jeremiah, “I am weary of holding it in, indeed I cannot” (Jer. 20:9).

This is the difference of being grace-centered and Christ-centered rather than me-centered and works-centered.

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