When Paul wrote his first letter to Timothy, he had planted dozens of churches, master-minded the early Christian mission almost single-handedly, and orchestrated the astonishing growth of a worldwide movement that had been spawned by a humble Galilean who met an ignominious death on a Judean cross. If ever anyone was entitled to a dose of self-congratulatory satisfaction, or legitimately could have rested on his laurels, it was the apostle to the Gentiles. But Paul remembered his roots; he remembered his former pride and sin. Do you and I remember that if it were not for the mercy and grace of God we would still be in our sins?
In the first chapter of 1 Timothy, Paul devotes the customary thanksgiving section to an acknowledgment of his blasphemous past—how he had persecuted God’s people until on the road to Damascus he was met by the risen Christ. Humbly, he acknowledged that he was the worst of sinners, so that he might serve as an example to other believers. So when Paul went on shortly thereafter in the letter to expose the false teachers Hymenaeus and Alexander (1 Tim 1:20), he did so cognizant of the fact that in himself he was no better than them or anyone else. It was by the grace of God that he was who he was. The same is true for you and me.