v 17 – “To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”

This text is the conclusion of a song of praise in Paul’s introduction to his first letter to Timothy. Timothy, born of Greek and Hebrew descent, is referred to as Paul’s “child” in the faith. Possibly one who was raised in the faith, or just one who, with his mother and grandmother, came to faith at a young age. Paul has, however, taken him under his wing and in training him up for service to the community of believers in the region of Asia Minor. It is in this vein that Paul is writing a letter to him – to encourage him in his ministry, to call him to be faithful in his service to God, to remind him of his high calling, and to make sure that he knows that he is approved by God through his establishment to this task by the church, and by God through his church.

Paul, partly in revealing to Timothy his source of authority and strength, and partly in joy that he is writing to this, the next generation of teachers, begins his letter in thanking not Timothy, but God.

v 12 – “I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service,”

  • Paul begins by directing Timothy to the fact that it is God alone who has given him strength. That God the Father, through the work in his life of Jesus the Son, has judged Paul as faithful – faithful to his ministry of reconciliation, and faithful to the Lord who saved him. In this recognition of his faithful service, God has appointed him to a specific role – that of a church planter, an evangelist to individuals in part, but more directly an evangelist to the people as a whole to the entire way of life found in Christ Jesus. While other evangelists reach individuals, Paul was a faithful witness to whole regions – establishing church bodies and setting up elder bodies to serve the members of those local communities of faith.

v 13 – “though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief,”

  • Part of Paul’s song of praise, is a humble reminder that he was the great persecutor of the church. He, in ignorance, sought the arrest and ultimate destruction, not only of the members of this fledgling body of believers, but also the entire destruction of what he saw as a terrible affront to the God of the Jews. In that, he sought to become the primary oppressor to this message of Jesus, and even to make a name for himself in its destruction.
  • God, however, had different ideas for him. He has mercy on this violent actor against his Church, and instead, in mercy and grace, turned his heart from one of anger to one of service to Himself. He took his skills which had been used to attack and enslave his elect, and now used them to spread his gospel and the church itself, to the ends of the earth. Paul at this time does not know it yet, but he will even stand before the emperor of the whole world in Rome to declare to him the “way” of eternal life.

v 14 – “and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”

  • God’s grace, for this infamous oppressor of his people, was overflowing. It was far more than Paul could withstand as God looked past the events that happened in the past, placing the punishment for those sins against himself upon Jesus, and forever clearing his record. God then, in the faith and love that are found only in Christ Jesus, now immediately put him to work. While on earth, we can only hope to achieve this level of true forgiveness. Not only striking that record, but so complete is this forgiveness, that he only saw his potential as a great servant of God that he took this and immediately set him loose. The shock, however, was too much for those in Damascus to handle, and even in Jerusalem, so Paul was sent away for 3 years to his home town to grow in the knowledge and grace of God. He, as a faithful witness to what God has done for him through the work of Jesus Christ, was so much of a shock to those who knew him as a fierce opponent of this church of Christ, that it gave them spiritual and political whiplash, and so they sought to kill him. This same reaction would persist for him throughout his life, but it is all based on the life changing, world shattering, truthful work of God in his life. It is to this that Paul is proudly giving thanks.

v 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.”

  • Paul now drives his point home. Leaning on his own experience, and in the experience he has seen time and time again throughout his ministry, he knows that it is absolutely certain that the purpose of Jesus ministry on earth was to save sinners. His perfect life, from cradle to temporary grave, his unjust trial, and his destruction at the hands of those whom he created, were all performed for the singular purpose of salvation of the souls of the elect of God. Jesus makes this clear in John 6:38, in that his purpose on earth was to perform the works which God the Father had given him, and that, on the cross in John 19:30, the work has been completed as Jesus declares “it is finished” and he gives up his spirit. Jesus’ body then, now a lifeless corpse, spent for the sins of those in the world whom God has chosen to save, hung lifeless on that cross.
  • Paul also declares that he is the foremost of all sinners. This is not to say that he is, in reality, the worst sinner of all mankind, but that, in his own estimation, the worst sinner as he fought the hardest to attack this great work of God. If the whole purpose of Jesus’ ministry on Earth, who is God in the flesh, was to life a perfect life that we could never live, then to die on the cross as a substitutionary atonement – taking the punishment of men upon himself so that God would declare freedom to those who trust in Jesus work on the cross and his work in perfectly keeping God’s law on their behalf, then Paul, as the foremost enemy of that mission of God, and as the foremost persecutor of those who have faith in Jesus as God has directed, then he was the foremost enemy of God. Ergo, he was the foremost sinner. The chief of all sinners.

v 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.”

  • Paul recognizes that he received this great mercy from God – he whom God should immediately wipe out from the face of the Earth for not only being a regular sinner, but for so violently and vehemently pursuing those who are rightly serving God, has received mercy in great abundance. Just as the grace of God was overflowing for him, so also this mercy, in that God used him not as an example for others in his destruction (which was warranted), but as a shining example of God’s ability to change the hearts and minds of his elect. Paul was the most famous persecutor of Christians, who now was the most famous preacher and perpetuator of the Jesus whom he intended to destroy.

v 17 – “To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”  

  • Paul now concludes this section – this song of praise, with a call to the one who created him for this purpose.
    • The King of the ages
      • Whereas earthly kings come and go, and often changing their style or intent in rule, whether as tyrants or fair, God never changes. His rule, intent, power, authority, and sovereign decrees are the same today as it was yesterday, as it will be tomorrow. Only our God is immutable in his ways. The King we worship today is the same King that Paul is referring to, and the same King who bestowed on David his rule, and who was the King over all creation whom Moses records the Genesis accounts at God’s direction through his spirit within him. This is the King who stood before Abraham before he destroyed Sodom, listening to Abraham’s pleas, and is still the same King who walked through the bisected animals when he made his covenant of grace with Abraham. This is the same King who walked the garden with Adam in the cool of the day before the fall. This is the King of the ages – ever trustworthy, ever terrifying, ever holy.
    • Immortal
      • Our God cannot be killed by the will or intent of man, much as man would like to destroy him. In recent times there have been more overt attempts to destroy him, but in ages past the same has been attempted. Each time they tried to wipe out the people of God, God has defended them. Sometimes allowing his people to suffer great losses, yet he is always standing firm. We exist at his whim, but he exists of his own authority. Therfore it is impossible to destroy him. Jesus him self said that he had to lay down his life – that he had to choose to die, else he would be hanging on that tree today. This is one of those things which so directly separates us from the divine that it is impossible to imagine. We may say that we understand it, or push our minds to simply accept it, but we, who were born into a temporary world, draped with temporary bodies, while possessing eternity in our hearts, cannot, until we pass through that veil of death, even begin to truly understand immortality in the way that God embodies it. This is our King.
    • Invisible
      • Earthly people like earthly gods. They like things they can see, feel, and touch. They want something that is relatable. When Abraham first heard the voice of God, his family must have thought him to be insane. They were a people of idolatry, surrounded by nations built upon idolatry. Their very core being sought worship of things they could understand. A god must have arms and hands to do work, right? But why not give him the body of a fish to reveal his diety? BAM! Dagon! A god must be strong and powerful, so let’s give it a strong body, but it also needs a fire in its body, an ox head, and windows in it chest so it can be seen to have this power within it, right? BAM! Moloch! Kind of like humans, but not – kind of like animals, but not. Created by the imagination of men to reflect them personally, yet made different in some way so that it could be seen to be divine.
      • Our God is nothing like this. He goes out of his way in scripture to describe how he is not. Even when he appears before the people in Exodus 20, he does so in a flame of fire, a tower of smoke, clothed in lightning, and speaks with the peopel from this tornado of fire with loud blasts of ram’s horns. God cannot be seen by earthly men and live. God knows that if we see things, we trust on the things and not the god OF those things. This is why God appears to us in this manner. Even Jesus, who walked the earth for 33-ish years, was so unremarkable in appearance that on multiple occasions, as the crowd was attempting to kill him, he just walked out of their midst. At the top of his ministry, where he could not go anywhere becuase of the throngs of ppl following him, and where he and his disciples would arrive and people would suddenly appear to follow his every movement, even then, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Judas had to literally go up to Jesus and physically touch him so that the arresting officers and chief priests would know who to take.
      • God exists invisible so that our faith is not in the God who looks like (any range of things), but so that our faith is in God himself, because our sinful hearts, as Calvin so perfectly points out, are factories of idols. God had Moses create a staff with a serpent on it to save the people who looked to it for their salvation (Num 21:8-9), and yet we see in 2 Kings 18:4 that the people had been bowing down to it and worshipping it – even naming it as another god. This is the heart of mankind – always looking for something to worship, yet God refuses to be seen by us so that he would be worshipped in truth, not in idolatry.
    • The only God
      • God is, as he has stated time and again, the only true God. As the creator of all things, nothing existed before he created it. Therefore he is the only God. There are no other gods. He will use the term “gods” (little “g”) to refer to lower magistrates – earthly officials. Judges, local county mayors, senators, presidents, kings, etc, but even they have their authority only from God himself (John 19:11). He is he one who determines the boundaries of nations and rules over all things (Acts 17:26). He is the only God, and there is no other.
    • Be honor and glory
      • Paul now ascribes to God the honor and glory that us due to his name (character and nature). That is to say ALL honor and ALL glory. As our creator King, all honor and glory that we have on ourselves is merely a reflection of that which God has in himself. So it is right for us to redirect any glory that we attain from other earthly beings to God alone. This is why God does miracles with so few people – as in the battle with Gideon, or the times where God fought armies who threatened his people with walls of water, earthquakes, and hail. This is so that God gets the glory, not man. God deserves all the honor and glory because it all belongs to him to begin with. Suppose that there were a car that you appreciated, say a Tesla. You look at its ingenius technology, and realize its transformational aspects on the rest of the automotive world. Do you praise the car itself, or the engineering team, and the head of the company who drove that engineering team to create the item? In the same way, God, as our creator, takes credit for every good thing that we do:
        • It could not happen outside of his control to allow it to take place
        • Any wisdom that we have comes from his gifting of it to us
        • Our ability to understand anything in the world comes from his abilities that we have through him
        • He continues to provide us with all things so that we can continue to work
        • He takes care of our needs (shelter, food, etc) to free us up to worship him rightly
    • Forever and ever
      • Our God, who cannot change, who embodies immortality, who is wholly different from anything he has created, who is the only God who exists, from whom come all authority and power and glory and honor, will exist in perpetuity until he decides to roll up his creation like a scroll and toss it into the fire. We, who exist in this temporal realm, understand all things in relation to time, have a God who exists outside of time. For whom time is merely a construct – a piece of his creation which he put into place. Therefore, for us who exist in God’s creation, we know that God will always exist for us, and therefore we give God this glory and acknowledge his authority and power and love for us from this time forth and until time no longer exists, and even in the time beyond time. Everything belongs to God, and we, as his creation, rightly worship him as such – the King of the ages – immortal, invisible, the only God.