One author quoting John Newton, the writer of the hymn “Amazing Grace”, said, “Everything God sends is needful and everything God doesn’t send isn’t needful.” This little statement is like an ocean of theology in a thimble.
1 Timothy 1:12 – 17…
12 I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, 13 though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 16 But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. 17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen
An ocean of theology in a thimble. That’s what I think of when I think of God’s grace. The topic of God’s grace is so vast that to even use an adjective like amazing, seems to fall terribly short of expressing the full experience of the blessing of grace. Everything God gives us and everything God withholds from us is an extension of his grace.
The literal meaning of the word “grace” is “unmerited favor” or “unearned kindness”. Grace reminds me that I have been given far more than I deserve in the cross and empty tomb of Jesus. And grace also reminds me that I haven’t received everything I do deserve. Namely damnation and eternal separation from God.
We live in a world that values the ability and the responsibility to work hard to earn the things we want. But the experience of life doesn’t always measure up to what we value. Sometimes we work hard for something and we don’t get what we worked hard for. And other times we get something we don’t deserve that we didn’t work hard for.
You work hard to climb the ladder of vocational success. Sometimes you get what you wanted (what you worked hard for) and sometimes you don’t. You work hard to meet the person of your dreams to spend the rest of your life with and sometimes you get what you wanted (what you worked hard for) and sometimes you don’t. You work hard to raise your kids right and teach them how to live rightly and sometimes you get what you wanted (what you worked so hard for) and some times you don’t. You work hard to attain some sort of financial stability. Sometimes you get what you wanted (what you worked hard for) and sometimes you don’t. Our experience of life doesn’t always measure up to what we value.
I’ve often said, and I wholeheartedly believe that the Bible teaches us that when we don’t get what we want, what we worked hard for, God is trying to teach us about what we truly need. And when we make our wants into needs we make our needs into something we do not want. Making wants into needs is the root of all idolatry. And the grace of God smashes our idols to pieces and the trash that infects the temples of our hearts gets taken to the curb.
“Everything God sends is needful and everything God doesn’t send isn’t needful.” This is an ocean of theology in a thimble. It’s an ocean of theology in a word. Grace. The word “grace” is an ocean of theology in a thimble that smashes and removes the idols of our hearts. And that’s exactly what Paul describes in the verses we are studying today when he describes the experience of God’s grace. And as Paul describes his personal experience of God’s grace he gets caught up in the experience of God’s grace around him in the world and then he gets caught up with gratitude for the Giver of grace.
And that’s the natural progression of every true believer. Every true believer will ultimately experience grace at a personal level. And then every true believer, who has now tasted of God’s good grace personally, will begin to experience and see and seek to advance God’s grace throughout the world they live in. Their worldview will be transformed from a works-based, me-centered worldview to a grace-based, others-focused worldview.
And then, under the weight of such a vast revelation and experience of grace, every true believer will become full to overflowing with gratitude towards the Giver of grace. This is an ocean of theology in a thimble of the word, grace.
#1: Paul Was Grateful For The Grace He Experienced Personally (12 – 14)
The Apostle Paul’s story is much like our own stories. Paul was a hard worker, he got excited when he got close to reaching a goal and he was passionate about what he believed. And just like all of us, Paul had moments in his life where he got knocked off his high horse and had to reevaluate things through a new set of lenses. Namely the lenses of God’s grace.
At one point in his life, the Apostle Paul was certain he had it right. He was pursuing the pathway to vocational success as a blasphemer of Jesus, a persecutor of Christians and a violent enemy of the church. He knew what he wanted and he was working hard to get it. But what Paul wanted, Paul didn’t need. And God knew that.
And one day on the road to Damascus, with permission letters in his hand from his employer giving him the authority to wipe out the church, he got knocked off his horse and blinded by the Lord. Now, for most of us that would have been a really bad day. You lose your job, your spouse walks out the door, your kids rebel or you get the news of a life-threatening illness.
Now to be honest, this kind of illustration might connect with you but it falls terribly short. It’s a good place to start. Every one of us has experienced a day where our worlds get turned upside down. But to really feel the intensity of this day for Paul, we need to take ourselves out of the victim posture.
Sure, we’ve all been victimized in various ways. But the day that Paul got knocked off his high horse, though it may have been painful and fearful at first, this wasn’t a day where he became a victim. It was a day where the real victim, God, who had been the recipient of Paul’s rebellion, stood up and flexed his muscles against a bully.
And the muscle that God flexed on that day with his enemy, Paul, was the muscle of his grace. Paul says, although I had been acting ignorantly in unbelief, I received mercy (God withheld what I actually deserved which was his justified wrath against me for my war against him) and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me producing faith and love for the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul’s real needs were becoming Paul’s real wants.
When the Lord flexes his muscle of grace upon a person that person gets knocked off their high horse and they are filled with gratitude instead of pride, bitterness and anger. This is why Paul says “I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service.” Paul was grateful for his personal experience of God’s grace. This grace strengthened him and encouraged him in seasons where he suffered and in seasons where he succeeded.
Paul knew that his appointment to ministry wasn’t a result of his own faithfulness but instead it was a result of the grace of God. Paul was the recipient of a love that he did not deserve. His previous, seemingly good wants, were abolished and crushed like trash and then taken to the curb by the muscle of God’s grace.
Have you experienced the grace of God personally? Have you come face to face with your own rebellious reflection in the mirror? Have you reflected on your own opposition to the Lord lately? And have you experienced the muscle of God’s grace taking your trash out to the curb recently? Everything God gives is needful. And everything God withholds isn’t needful. This is an ocean of theology in a thimble called grace.
#2: Paul Was Grateful For The Grace He Experienced Worldwide (15 – 16)
Think about your experience of God’s grace not just at the personal level but at the level of the world we live in. Last week we experienced this a little as a church family. We held our first formal congregational meeting and various leaders testified to the work of God’s grace in the lives of people in our community. These stories were an extension and an experience of God’s grace in the world we live in.
And for Paul, this wasn’t just about the Ephesian church and her pastor, Timothy. For Paul, this worldwide experience of the movement of God’s grace was about a vision of the gospel transforming lives to the ends of the Earth. Paul knew that the Ephesians would be tempted to huddle up in their own little Christian bubbles trying to protect their Christian culture from the wolves he had previously warned them about.
So he casts a grand vision of the effects of the gospel of grace to the ends of the Earth. He says, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.”
Paul knew that his personal experience of God’s grace was about so much more than his own little personal journey. His story, Timothy’s story, the Ephesian believers’ story, your story, my story, are about so much more than our own little experience of God’s grace. Jesus came into the world to save sinners. The word sinners is plural not singular.
This might seem like I’m belaboring a mute point. But can I just say, that the experience of God’s grace is about so much more than you and your own little bubble? Like, this passage was one of the driving forces behind the Reformation. It literally drove the Reformers to take their experience of God’s grace out into the world where they shared it with others to the extent that they were willing to die by being burned at the stake for their beliefs.
Can you imagine what it would be like if the church in America started living like this today? If we stopped seeing the church like consumers of God’s grace only but as mission partners in the advancement of the gospel of grace? Paul saw himself, not as the one with all the answers and not as the one who had to fight to preserve his rights but as the one who was the foremost of sinners, the chief of sinners. And he held to that worldview because he knew that God uses humble men who are on fire with the message of the grace of God to do mighty things.
My prayer is that we would experience this kind of world changing grace deep in our bones. I pray that we wouldn’t give up or shut up or level up or post up like pride-filled little ego-monsters. But that we would be humbled by the grace of God in the cross of Christ and empowered by the grace of God in the empty tomb to not only look for God’s grace at work in our world but also seek to advance the grace of God in our world.
There are people right down the street and right across the parking lot that need a visible experience of God’s grace in their lives. Your coworkers, your friends, your family members, the gas station attendant, the waitress, they all need to experience the perfect patience of God. There are many people in this city that will believe in Christ for eternal life because of your little thimble of grace-filled theology.
Think about your involvement in our community and feel the weight of the calling to be an example to those whom God is calling to himself. The only thing that will fill you with the desire and the ability to reach them will not be your ability to win fights and stand for your rights.
The only way you will have the power to advance the gospel in our city will be through your experience of the grace of God at work in you and through you. Everything God gives is needful. And everything God withholds isn’t needful. This is an ocean of theology in a thimble called grace. And all of this, all of what Paul has described here, climaxes with a laser tight focus on the Giver of grace Himself.
#3: Paul Was Grateful For The Giver Of Grace (17)
Years ago, my wife Christy, secretly bought me a motorcycle. I had desired one for a very long time. But for many reasons, I didn’t need one. There were plenty of other needs for our family to tend to. But without me knowing it, she struck a deal with the owner to get it at an affordable price and on Christmas morning she gave me a small box that that contained the key to the motorcycle. I was really surprised and I fell in love with that gift immediately. But something else happened inside of me. I didn’t deserve the bike but I loved Christy more because of the gift.
The illustration breaks down obviously because I don’t just love Christy because of what she gives me. I also love her for what she withholds from me. Oftentimes when I’m being a jerk, she withholds her wrath from me while she gently speaks the truth in love to me and I love her more every time she does it. I love her for the gift of grace that she is and I love God more because of the gift of grace that she is.
This is exactly what Paul is describing in the last verse of our text. He’s described the gift of God’s grace personally, he’s cast the vision for God’s grace to be advanced throughout the world and now he can’t help himself but praise God as the giver of the gift of grace. In verse 17 he says, “To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”
This is the picture of a man who is falling head over heels in love with the God of grace because he has experienced an ocean of theology in a thimble called grace as he’s experienced the truth that whatever God gives is needful and whatever God doesn’t give isn’t needful. Simply put, Paul was falling head over heels in love with the giver of grace and his little thimble full of grace was overflowing in gratitude towards God.
Have you experienced the grace of God personally? Where are you experiencing the grace of God in the world we live in? How are you expressing your gratitude for the Giver of grace right now? Everything God gives is needful. And everything God withholds isn’t needful. This is an ocean of theology in a thimble called grace. The word “grace” is an ocean of theology in a thimble that smashes and removes the idols of our hearts.
And that’s exactly what Paul has described in these verses today when he described the experience of God’s grace. And as Paul described his personal experience of God’s grace he got caught up in the experience of God’s grace around him in the world and then he got caught up with gratitude for the Giver of grace. This passage, this sermon, is like an ocean of theology in a thimble called grace. Amen!?