Background: 1 Timothy 1:12-17 is sandwiched between two sections concerning false teachers and how Timothy is to deal with them. The immediate context then is in the form of a chiamus (i.e., a reverse parallel). The outline below highlights both verbal parallels and thematic parallels.
A1) 1:3-11. Timothy is urged to charge/command that certain people stop teaching false doctrine or engage in myths and endless genealogies which they were apparently attempting to base upon the Law. The aim of this is “love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and sincere faith,” some have “by swerving from these have wandered away into vain discussion” (i.e., evil kind of talking) (vss. 5-6).
B) 1:12-17. St Paul gives thanks to the Lord Jesus because of the mercy and grace he received, which has been manifested in his conversion and gift of ministry.
A2) 1:18-20. The Apostolic charge/command given to Timothy is to wage good warfare in faith and good conscience against certain persons who have rejected conscience and made a shipwreck of their faith. Two of these people have been handed over to Satan in order to learn not to blaspheme (i.e., evil kind of talking).
Our text, 1:12-17 is the center or hinge around which the parallels are built. In this kind of construct the center or hinge is often an interpretive key to the entire section.
12 I thank him who has given me strength for this, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful by appointing me to his service,
St Paul expresses his thanks to Christ Jesus, something he rarely does, thanks usually being rendered to the Father. Paul’s thanksgivings usually focus upon what the Father has done for his (St Paul’s) readers, but here it is for what the Lord Jesus has done for him.
I thank him who has given me strength for this, Christ Jesus our Lord. “For this” provides a link to the previous section. Timothy had been urged to charge/command certain people not to teach false doctrines and speculations based upon the Law which they did not really understand (vss 3-7). Saints Paul and Timothy know the real purpose of the law “we know that the law is good, PROVIDED THAT one uses it as a law” (vs 8, NAB. In the RSV the Greek conditional particle, ἐάν, which it translates as “if,” doesn’t do justice to the force it has). This knowledge concerning the Law is for St Paul, “in accordance with the glorious gospel of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted” (vs 11), and it is for this that he here gives thanks.
Paul has been given strength (better, “enabled”) by Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful by appointing me to his service. The word translated as judged is ἡγέομαι (hēgeomai), and no English translation can communicate the full force of the meaning as it is used here. The word has the sense of “to lead on with authority, as a commander.” I would suggest the following interpretive paraphrase: “Because he, our commander who is endowed with effective power, has made me faithful, and appointed me a lieutenant in his service.” I’ve chosen martial language here because hēgeomai can have military overtones, as can charge and command, words used several times in this chapter of 1 Timothy; and also because St Paul is about to commit a charge to St Timothy, that he “wage the good warfare” (vs 18).
Appointing me to his service. See 2:7 and 2 Tim 1:11. The word appointing is passive, no one can take the apostolic ministry upon himself. This contrasts nicely with those actively “desiring to be teachers of the law” (vs 7).
This appointment to service came to St Paul, he tells us,
13.though I formerly blasphemed and persecuted and insulted him; but I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief.
Paul was once an evil talker who once did not understand the purpose of the Law, like those who desire to be teachers of the Law (vs 7); and like Hymanaeus and Alexander who were blasphemers (vs 20). St Paul received mercy because, like the teachers of the Law who were without understanding concerning what they were saying or the things about which they made assertions (vs 7), he too acted ignorantly in unbelief. See Acts 8:1-3; 9:1-13; 1 Cor 15:1-11; Gal 1:11-17; Phil 3:6.
Blasphemed. It was popularly believed that blasphemers could not repent, but St Paul’s experience witnesses against this fact, at least for those who do such things in ignorance. It should be pointed out however, that Hymanaeus and Alexander, who had rejected faith and good conscience, could still learn not to blaspheme, implying that they could be converted even though their blasphemy was not done in ignorance (vss 19-20).
14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
Grace, faith, and love belong to us because of our union with the Lord (“in Christ Jesus”). Grace, along with faith and love are said to overflow for St Paul. This abundance was so that St Paul could be a sign and example for others. He is a living witness to the sure saying in verse 15, and is thus proof of divine mercy (vs 16).
15 The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. And I am the foremost of sinners;
16 but I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience for an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.
The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance. The word order in Greek is more emphatic, placing sure and worthy at the beginning and end: “Sure is the saying, and of full acceptance worthy.” The saying consists of these words: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Again, the word order in Greek is more emphatic, placing the word save at the end. As already noted, St Paul was proof of the surety of the saying, for although he was the foremost of sinners, he nonetheless received mercy. Note the repetition of foremost (vss 15-16) to keep us focused on the former sinner Paul as the recipient of mercy. Not also that the reception of mercy is sandwiched between this twofold usage of foremost. The purpose of this mercy was so that Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience for an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.
St John Chrysostom: Let us not then despair, but even though thou be a reviler, or covetous, or whatsoever thou art, consider that Paul was (1Tm 1,13 and 1Tm 1,16) “a blasphemer, and persecutor, and injurious, and the chief of sinners,” and suddenly rose to the very summit of virtue, and his former life proved no hindrance to him. And yet none with so great frenzy clings to vice as he did to the war against the Church. For at that time he put his very life into it; and because he had not ten thousand hands that he might stone Stephen with all of them, he was vexed. Notwithstanding, even thus he found how he might stone him with more hands, to wit, those of the false witnesses whose clothes he kept. And again, when he entered into houses like a wild beast and no otherwise did he rush in, haling, tearing men and women, filling all things with tumult and confusion and innumerable conflicts. For instance, so terrible was he that the Apostles, (Ac 9,26) even after his most glorious change, did not yet venture to join themselves to him. Nevertheless, after all those things he became such as he was:for I need not say more. (Hom. 22 on 2 Cor)
God indeed says that He called him on account of his excellent capacity, as He said to Ananias, ‘for he is a chosen vessel unto Me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings,’ (Ac 9,15). that is to say, capable of service, and the accomplishment of great deeds. God gives this as the reason for his call. But he himself everywhere ascribes it to grace, and to God’s inexpressible mercy, as in the words, ‘Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy,’ not that I was sufficient or even serviceable, but ‘that in me as chief might Jesus Christ show forth all His long-suffering, for an ensample of them which should hereafter believe on Him unto eternal life.’ (1Tm 1,16). Behold his overflowing humility; I obtained mercy, says he, that no one might despair, when the worst of men had shared His bounty. For this is the force of the words, ‘that He might show forth all His long-suffering for an ensample of them which should hereafter believe on Him.'(Hom. 1 on Galatians)
17 To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.
St Paul concludes this thanksgiving-which is also a testament to the Divine mercy, patience, and salvation-with a doxology. Other doxologies can be found in Gal 1:5; Rom 9:5; Eph 3:21; Philip 4:20.
The King of ages. See Jer 10:10; Tobit 13:7; Sirach 36:17. As the King of ages he is the source of the eternal life mentioned in vs 16.
Immortal. The Greek is “incorruptible”. The word is not found in the Greek OT, it is a Greco-Roman religious category adopted by Hellenistic Judaism (e.g., Philo). Even the pagans recognize that God is incorruptible (Rom 1:23). This incorruptible God will bestow on the faithful an incorruptible crown (1 Cor 9:25) and an incorruptible body (1 Cor 15:50-57).
Invisible. See John 1:18; Rom 1:20; Col 1:15-16.
The only God. See John 5:44; Rom 16:27.
Be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen. The various attributes just mentioned are reason for giving honor and glory to God for ever and ever. Notice how the doxology began with a reference to God as King of ages and ends with the words for ever and ever.
This prayer of thanksgiving and its ending doxology are preparing for the subject matter treated in chapter 2: prayers and thanksgiving for kings and all in authority; the one God who is savior, Christ the one mediator; the appointment of St Paul, etc.