After mentioning his reception of the gospel, Paul continues in verses 12-17 to reminisce about his calling out of sin into Christ's service. He presents himself as a model for Timothy, other church leaders and all believers to follow (see v. 16). He also presents himself as the antithesis of the false teacher, as the stress on "faithfulness" and repetition of "faith" words in verses 12-16 indicate. As this testimony unfolds, Paul reveals several essential qualities to be found in the Christian, which the leader/teacher must exemplify.
This is not the first time in his writing that Paul saw fit to "give his testimony" (2 Cor 10--12; Phil 3:4-11). When he chose to do so, however, he seems to have had a good reason. What is most interesting in this is how he starts with the importance of Christ in his life. Even if there is a hint of personal defense in his presentation, it is a defense built on the work of Christ.
First, strength for Christian life and ministry comes from Christ. Paul's ministry was marked by the manifestation of spiritual "power"--his work brought results, but he does not explain them on the basis of his seminary education, up-to-date methods or personal charisma. Instead, he credits and thanks Christ for empowering him.
Second, the right to participate in ministry is established solely by Christ. Paul's thanksgiving extends to the consciousness of having been considered faithful to be appointed to his service. Such faithfulness is borne out only by actual ministry, and Paul clearly felt that his own record bore witness to Christ's selection of him. But there is a sense in which this particular trait, faithfulness or trustworthiness, ought to be evident initially in those who would serve the Lord (see below on 3:1-13; 5:17-25). The false teachers mentioned above, regardless of the promise they might have shown at first, had proved themselves unfaithful.
Paul's ministry was sustained by and originated in Christ. We who would share Paul's goals and vision for life and ministry must also share his complete dependence on Christ.
Paul was fully aware of the change in direction that the grace of God brought to his life. Before encountering the risen Christ on the road to Damascus (Acts 9), his life was lived for the sole purpose of persecuting the church right out of existence. He did this out of commitment to God! He was truly a religious, anti-Christian fanatic. In fact, we first meet him as he stood by in approval of the stones being thrown at Stephen, the first Christian martyr (Acts 7--8). Here is Luke's portrait of him: "But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison" (Acts 8:3; see 9:1-2). To be honest, this brings to mind the terror of Nazi Germany or Idi Amin's regime. From his Christian perspective, Paul described himself in the past as a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man (1 Cor 15:9; Gal 1:13-14), yet he experienced God's mercy (v. 13). He was saved. The outpouring of grace from the Lord produced in him faith and love (v. 14)--that is, genuine spiritual life (see notes on 2:15).
Paul's references to faith and love and to his prior condition of ignorance and unbelief are again directed at the false teachers. On the one hand, he seriously questions any "Christian" spirituality that is not marked by faith and love, belief and godly response. On the other hand, the false teachers' Christian background--they know the gospel and have been members and probably even leaders in the church--makes the game they play an extremely dangerous one (compare Heb 6:4). Their history is marked by movement away from the faith, while Paul's life reflects growth in the faith. The false teacher and the Christian teacher are opposites.
With the turn in thought that occurs at this point, Paul continues his contrast of the faithful teacher and the false teacher. In teaching false doctrine, the false teachers are diverging from the authorized gospel and God's plan of redemption (1:4). In contrast, the faithful teacher will follow Paul in fully affirming God's plan.
First, at the center of this plan is the gospel message. Paul was fully convinced of its reliability. He signals his commitment and calls others to do likewise with a formula, Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance, and a succinct statement of the gospel, Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. As he clearly states here, the basis of salvation is the historical ministry of Christ. As he has stated elsewhere (1 Cor 1:18-31; 2 Tim 1:10), this "ministry," executed in the past (Christ came), continues in the present day to be effective in the preaching of the gospel. This is God's plan: salvation is linked solely to Christ and the message about him. Commitment to anything but the apostolic gospel is heresy.
Second, God's redemptive plan is imperturbable, as Paul's own experience taught him. It reaches to the depths of depravity. Paul's self-confessed pre-Christian history (as the worst of sinners [v. 15], a reference to his persecution of Christians [v. 13; compare Gal 1:13]) made him, ironically, the perfect illustration of the effectiveness of the gospel, the boundless grace of God and the inexhaustible patience of Christ (v. 16).
Third, the readers are reminded that salvation requires "belief" in Christ (v. 16). Furthermore, Paul's language (believe on him) indicates that he means personal faith in Christ, not simply adherence to a dogma. In order for this kind of belief to occur, the gospel must be kept pure.
Finally, the ultimate goal of the plan of salvation is eternal life (v. 16; compare 4:8; 6:12, 19; 2 Tim 1:10; Tit 1:2; 3:7). Paul's connection of ideas makes it clear that the believer's personal faith in Christ is the necessary stepping-stone to the ultimate goal of eternal life. It is this plan of salvation that Paul's life verified.
Most of us would be reluctant to do what Paul has done here. We are certainly no match for the apostle. But humility aside, each Christian's spiritual history is filled with poignant reminders of God's grace and mercy. While it will not do to live in that past, from time to time we must take our bearings from it as we move forward on a path that may not be clear. Paul's testimony of his personal encounter with Christ demonstrated the power of the approved gospel. Paul knew in his heart and was fully convinced that this message was true. And it is essential that every Christian share this conviction borne out of experience. We must remember, however, that this proof cannot be based solely on a mystical encounter with God; it must be backed up by a changed life (v. 14). Could the false teachers with their version of the gospel make the same claims as Paul? No! God's salvation plan is linked solely to the Christian gospel. It requires faith and produces a new manner of life.
Paul could not reflect on God's grace in his life and the promise of eternal life without being moved to worship. Verse 17 takes the form of a doxology (see 6:15-16). It imparts a powerful vision of the majesty and mystery of God. King eternal ascribes to God absolute sovereignty over all the ages. Immortal recalls Romans 1:23, where God is contrasted with images of mortal humans and animals. By nature God lives eternally; death is foreign to him. He is also invisible (6:16). For a sinful human to see God is to bring death (Ex 33:20). Finally, God is "one" (2:5), the only God, a thought that returns to the first commandment, the starting point of the Christian faith.
The source of Paul's life and ministry was the eternal God. As we see here, he went back to that source regularly. The one who would serve God must do so as well (see further below, on 6:15-16).