Scripture: 1 Timothy 1:12-17
My family has enjoyed watching America’s Got Talent this year. At this point, we all have our favorites and we are looking forward to the championship show coming up this week. It is hard to believe, but the show is in its 14th season and was first on the air all the way back in 2006. In addition to America’s Got Talent, several other countries have their own “Got Talent” show, many of these international shows are also have seasons in double digits. All told, this brand of reality show competitions has revealed that there are a lot of incredibly talented people in the world. Combined there have been hundreds of Got Talent auditions over the years, but arguably the most well-known, most memorable, and most powerful one comes Britain’s Got Talent in 2009. That is when Susan Boyle made her audition debut. The whole clip is kind of long, so I will not show it now but there is a good chance most of you have seen it. It begins with Susan Boyle coming onto stage. She was forty-seven at the time, and a little socially awkward. She claimed her dream was to be a professional singer even though her only real experience is singing to her cats. It is clear from the response the judges give as well as the audience reaction, that they thought the reason she was sent on stage was to be bad to the point of being humorous. They were all prepared to laugh at her, but Susan Boyle got the last laugh. When she started singing, everyone was blown away by how incredible her voice turned out to be. The amazing sound that she produced surprised the judges. The complete surprise that Boyle brought upon the audience when she began to sing reminds me how grace works. Before she started singing, no one in the audience or at home took her seriously. In the same, people who have never experienced for themselves the saving grace that comes from Jesus Christ do not take it all that serious. The people who do not know what it is like to have their sins forgiven view it at best as an opiate for the masses and at worse as an antiquated fairy tale. One of the judges who first heard Susan Boyle confessed her own attitude of cynicism, and said the audition was a “big wake up call.” In the same way, those who have responded to the sweet of Amazing Grace have woken up to a new way of understanding the world.
This morning’ scripture comes from the beginning of 1 Timothy. This is a personal letter that Paul wrote to a young person he was mentoring. He wrote this letter towards the end of his life. Throughout 1 Timothy he is extremely reflective of his life and ministry. We see that in this scripture as Paul recounts how he was awakened to grace. In the book of Acts we can read about Paul’s conversion, how we went from someone who persecuted Christians to a follower of Christ after he met Jesus on the road to Damascus. However, in this scripture we get his personal account, not of the event, but of the feelings he had due to having his life turned upside down by grace. Paul’s words here are powerful as they are a firsthand account of how one man experienced the sweet sound of amazing grace that saved a wretch like him. As we consider this morning’s scripture and we consider Paul’s experience with grace, I think we can garner two insights that can help us better frame and understand our own experience with grace.
The first insight comes from verse 15, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners- Of whom I am the worst. “ This verse causes me to really pause for a second, because the person who wrote this is the apostle Paul. This is a man who traveled the ancient world fearlessly preaching the truth of Jesus Christ. This is a man who tradition remembers as writing twelve different books in the bible. This is a man who ultimately would be martyred and die a saintly death because of his unwavering faith in Jesus Christ. If we were to make a list of history’s worst sinners, I do not see how Paul would possibly make the list.
However, that is kind of the point. There is a common occurrence that happens across all academic disciplines or fields of study. The more advanced some gets in their knowledge, the more acutely aware of what it is they do not know. In the same way, the closer one gets to Jesus, the more aware we become of our constant need for grace, the more aware we become of just how prone our heart is to wander from the savior we love. So from Paul’s point of view he knew just how much he stood in need of forgiveness and grace. From Paul’s point of view he was the worst sinner that he knew, because he was the sinner he knew the best.
This is where the world around us fails to understand grace. The judges of Britain’s Got Talent first dismissed Susan Boyle because they had not heard her talent. In the same way, the people who do not yet know Jesus, dismiss him because they are not aware how much the need grace. A 2016 Social Psychology study found that most people consider themselves to be just, virtuous, and moral people. Moreover the same, study found that the majority of people believe they are morally superior to everyone else. This attitude stands in the way of grace, because if we believe that we are more or less a good person, then why do we need to be saved from our wickedness? As followers of Christ, we are tasked with the holy calling to make disciples of all the nations and share with others the forgiveness and love that comes from knowing Jesus. Just like Susan Boyle was so easily dismissed, the majority of the world is skeptical and cynical to the idea that they need a savior in the first place.
This means it is our job to show the world they need Jesus. Unfortunately, churches as a whole have struggled with breaking through the skepticism and cynicism that the world has towards grace. We have not done the best job at presenting how amazing and life changing grace is. We can see this with how the world outside the church views the church. The results of a pew research study published just last month shows that in younger people only 38% believe the church has a positive effect on society. We have missed the mark and not shown the world the positive effect that grace can have on all.
A practical example of how we have missed the mark is the common phrase, “love the sinner, hate the sin.” Have you ever noticed, how that phrase is always in reference to someone else’s sin? That phrase point to another person and explicitly says “I hate this part of you.” If we are going to focus on hating sin, we should start with hating our own sin. If we are going to point out moral shortcoming let’s start with our own, because that is exactly what Paul did. In verse 16, after pointing out that he is the worst sinner, Paul states “But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe. In him and receive eternal life.”
Paul was quick to point out that he was not perfect, Paul was quick to point that he was the worst sinner he personally knew, but despite that Jesus forgave him anyway. Paul’s witness and testimony, was not about how he was a good person and God has blessed him because he is so good. Instead Paul’s witness and testimony was that even though he is guilty of terrible sins, the grace of Jesus Christ was still poured out on him abundantly. We should follow Paul’s example and our witness should be that this place is not a museum of saints but it is a hospital for people who need forgiveness, acceptance, and love. We should follow Paul’s example and our witness should be that we are not perfect, just forgiven.
The second insight that I think can directly impact how we understand grace comes from verse 12. It begins with “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord”. From there the entire scripture this morning is about why Paul gives thanks to Christ for the grace and salvation that he has received. Remember, Paul wrote this towards the end of his ministry and life. It had been years since he had a coming to Jesus moment on the Damascus road. Despite that though, Paul still regularly gave thanks to God for the sweet sound of amazing grace. I think that is an example we should follow. For some of us it has been years since we first claimed the faith for own. It has been years since we first experienced the forgiveness and grace that can only come from knowing Jesus as Lord and Savior. After that initial experience we were likely quick to give thanks to God for the grace that saved us and forgave us. It is common though as time goes on we find the excitement wears off. It is not that we forget how amazing grace is, but our understanding of it fades to the background. We get caught up in the everyday doings of life, and we many not necessarily thank our Lord Jesus Christ for saving our souls.
It does not matter if you have been a follower of Jesus for two weeks, two years, twenty years, or sixty years. We should always pause to remember how amazing grace is. We should daily give thanks to God that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Because of that fact, our transgressions are forgiven, our iniquities are erased, and our sins are separated from us as far as the east is from the west. We should give thanks all the time that because of Jesus the grave has lost its strong and death has lost its victory. Because of grace even though life may still have struggles and hardship we can find an assurance and confidence that we do not go at it alone because our savior said “I am with you always.” Grace has redeemed us, transformed us, and reconciled us with our creator. The sound of grace can be summed by the words “In the name of Jesus Christ you are forgiven” or by the voice of God whispering over us “You are my child.” Friends, there is truly no sweeter sound in the world, and may we not forget to thank God for it. By giving thanks for God’s grace made known to us through Jesus Christ, we are more likely to remember just how amazing it truly is.
Paul gives us an example to follow in this morning’s scripture, but I am also reminded of another example for us in the story of John Newton. Newton, an Englishman, lived in the 18th century. He grew up in the church with a devout mother, but he left that behind to strike out on his own as a sailor. In that profession he earned the nickname “the great blasphemer”. Newton could curse, drink, and be crude enough to make other sailors blush. Newton even got involved in the slave trade. It was that point that his ship was caught in a fierce storm for over a week. Everyone including Newton, thought they were going to die. This brush with death, got Newton’s attention and he began to turn back to God. Over the course of the next several years, Newton drew closer to God, found Jesus to be his Lord and Savior. He left sailing and the slave trade and eventually fulfilled his mother’s wish and became a preacher. Newton thinking over the depths of sin he was in, and the love that God had for him despite his wickedness led Newton to write a song, that we still love today. Newton wrote “Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found. I was blind but now I see.” Newton went on to be instrumental in getting England to abolish slavery. As the years passed, his zeal for grace never diminished. In old age Newton struggled some with senility and a failing memory. However, he was quick to say, “My memory is nearly gone; but I remember two things: That I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Savior.”
No matter how old or young our faith is and no matter what we are we are experiencing in life may we also be able to proclaim that as well. May we not point an accusing finger at others while ignoring our own sins and shortcomings. Instead may we humbly confess our need to be saved and may we find that Jesus is the savior we need. Like the Apostle Paul, may we claim that the grace of our Lord was poured out on us abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. May our lives be a testimony to the sweet sound of amazing grace. May we be quick to point that we are not perfect just forgiven. And may our witness and testimony point to the fact that even though we might be great sinners, Jesus is a greater savior; thanks to him I once was lost, but now I am found. Thanks be to God.