This is the first in a series of three semi-continuous readings from Paul’s first letter to Timothy. It is important to state upfront that the Lutheran Service Book (LSB) provides alternatives from the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) for all three of these pericopes. In the first, LSB adds 1:5-11 as an optional addition to 1:12-17. In the second, the RCL stops at 1:7, while the LSB keeps going to 1:15. In the third, the RCL moves to the end of Paul’s letter with 6:6-19, while the LSB also offers 3:1-13 as an alternate epistle reading. For the purposes of preaching, I find the RCL selections more helpful, but each preacher will need to make the decision for themselves.
In the case of this pericope, I opt for the shorter reading for primarily two reasons. First, I fear verses 5-11 could lead all too easily into preaching about the Law, instead of preaching the Law. As such, verses 12-17 focus us more sharply on the Gospel, with a clearer distinction between Law and Gospel. Second, I am concerned the list of “the godless and sinful” in verses 5-11 could all too easily lead hearers into an implied attitude of, “Well, at least I don’t do that.” And I think it would take too much precious time to head this attitude off at the pass when, in effect, using the shorter reading still gives plenty of Law-Gospel angles without the pitfalls of the earlier verses.
This said, it also bears mentioning how I simply find the flow of verses 12-17 profoundly beautiful. Notice how Paul moves from gratefulness over the grace of God to save him, “foremost” among sinners, into a witness of the “patience” of Christ in making Paul an example to any and all of the mercy of God. It all then erupts in a superb doxology of praise in verse 17 (note to self: This would be a good Sunday to sing the old classic “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise”). In this sense, the epistle reading functions as testimony. You could almost imagine the apostle Paul getting up before your congregation and giving this deeply personal witness to God’s transformation of his life as an act of celebration among the faithful.
Yet, this is not a simple born-again testimonial, which is why it still speaks a good word to us today. Note the present tense at the end of verse 15: “...of whom I am the foremost.” It is not I was, or I had been. Paul’s conversion is not of the all-bad-before, all-good-now variety, because Paul would be the first to remind us conversion does not work that way. The grace and mercy which leads to doxology is the kind that is constantly at work in the human heart, from the moment water mixed with word splashes our brow until we breathe our last breath. That is why Paul is still an “example” (verse 16) for us. If this is what God in Christ can do with “a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence” (verse 13), imagine what God in Christ can do with you and me.
The parables in today’s Gospel reading (Luke 15:1-10) have something to say about that, and the rejoicing over one lost sheep and one lost coin share in the same doxology. It is the hymn of every sinner-saint who, each of us in our own way, has experienced the tenacious mercy of God to seek out what is lost. We come together this day, week in and week out, to rejoice that we have been found again.
Concordia Theology -Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching I Timothy 1:(5-11) 12-17.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach I Timothy 1:(5-11) 12-17.
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