Paul here gives examples of different kinds of evildoers. Then, at the end of the list, Paul writes: … and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine (verse 10). Everything—no matter how small—that is contrary to the teaching of the Bible is evil. But sound doctrine conforms to the glorious GOSPEL of God, that is, to the teaching of Christ and His apostles.
12-13 Paul can never forget how he once persecuted the church of Christ (Acts 8:3; 9:1-2; 26:9-11; Galatians 1:13). Nevertheless, because he had acted in ignorance, God had shown him mercy. God not only forgave Paul’s sins; He also considered him faithful (verse 12). God considered Paul so “faithful” that He appointed him to be an apostle. If God could make such a great change in a hardened enemy of Christ like Paul, then surely He can change any man!
But we must remember that God does not show mercy to those who knowingly continue to sin against Him. According to the teaching of the Old Testament, there was no sacrifice that would take away sins committed knowingly (see Hebrews 10:26-29 and comment). Because Paul had persecuted the church in ignorance and unbelief (verse 13), he had obtained mercy and forgiveness from God.1
14 Paul never failed to be amazed at the grace which God had so abundantly poured out into his life, and he never stopped thanking God for it. Because of that grace, Paul’s life was filled with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
15 Here Paul gives a one-sentence summary of the Gospel of Christ: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners (see Mark 2:17). All men are sinners (Romans 3:9-10). Therefore, all men need a Savior. Jesus came to save every man and woman of every nation and tribe on earth. All who believe in Him will be saved (John 3:16).
16 Paul serves as an example for all those who seek God and who believe in Christ. If Christ showed such great patience toward Paul, the worst of sinners, He will certainly show patience toward us.
Paul was a devout and righteous apostle of Christ. Nevertheless, he calls himself here the worst of sinners. This is not false humility. The more holy a Christian becomes, the more unholy he will consider himself. The reason is that the nearer we come to God, the clearer we see our own unholiness. In the light of God’s holiness, our own lives appear unholy and unrighteous—as indeed they are. Whoever says, “I am not a sinner; I am holy,” is far away from God.
17 As Paul thinks about the mercy and grace which God has showered upon him, he cannot keep from praising such an amazing and wonderful God—the King, eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God! To Him be honor and glory for ever and ever!
18 Paul had previously received PROPHECIES concerning Timothy, and because of these prophecies Paul knew with certainty that Timothy had been selected by God to be a leader in the church. Now Paul reminds Timothy of these prophecies, so that Timothy might be encouraged. Paul knew that Timothy, being a young pastor, would have to face many battles. But if Timothy remembers that God Himself has appointed him to leadership, he will be strengthened to fight the good fight.
19-20 By remembering the prophecies concerning himself, Timothy will not only be better able to fight, but he will also be better able to hold fast to his faith and to keep a good conscience (verse 19). Faith and a clear conscience always go together. If our faith is not genuine, we will be led into sin and we will lose our clear conscience. At the same time, if we sin and do not repent, we will be turned away from true faith toward false doctrines. Our faith and our behavior must always agree.
Paul here mentions two men, Hymenaeus and Alexander, who had shipwrecked their faith—that is, they had turned from the true faith. These two men had lost their good conscience and had begun to blaspheme against God. Paul had expelled them from the church and had handed (them) over to S ATAN (see 1 Corinthians 5:5 and comment). Paul expected that Satan would afflict them with some illness or other trouble (see Acts 13:9-11). Paul’s hope was that, as a result of this punishment, they would then be led to repentance.
Nothing else is known about these two men. Two other Alexanders are mentioned in the New Testament (Acts 19:33; 2 Timothy 4:14), but many scholars believe they are different from the Alexander mentioned here.
A good conscience (or clear conscience) is essential for every Christian. Why do our spiritual lives so quickly become dry? Why do we lose our zeal for the Lord? Why does our love so easily grow cold? The reason is always the same: namely, our conscience has become unclean because of some sin. If we have sinned and not repented, we will lose the desire and the power to love and serve the Lord.