Five times the Apostle Paul uses the expression, “It is a trustworthy statement,” exclusively in the pastoral epistles. In some cases it seems unclear to me what precisely the “trustworthy statement” is, but I have bolded what I believe to be Paul’s trustworthy statement in each case:
- 1 Timothy 1:15 (The Gospel of Grace) – “It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.”
I have never considered this verse in its context bedrock foundational statement from a fading mentor to his beloved protégé. “Timothy, regardless of how much longer I am around, never, ever, ever forget that Christ came for sinners–sinners like you and me.” It may be that the statement Paul is passing along is merely “Christ came into the world to save sinners,” a reminder of the loving mission of Christ to give Himself up for otherwise helpless people–and that the rest of the verse is Paul’s reflection that there is no sinner who needed the mercy of Christ more than he did. That may be the case, but I prefer to read Paul’s statement as “Christ came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all,” in which the “I” does not refer exclusively to Paul, but to Timothy and to every man who would recite this statement after him. No one needed the grace of Christ more than I (David) did. No one on earth. In its fuller expression, this statement disarms me of bitterness or pride I might feel toward another and leads me to mercy and compassion instead (cue “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”). I know the depths of my own sin more than that of anyone else on earth, and so truthfully I confess with Paul that no one on earth is more unworthy of the grace of Christ than I am. And yet the truth remains: I am the chief of sinners, and yet “Christ came into the world to save sinners.” Praise God.
- 1 Timothy 3:1 (Spiritual Leadership) – “It is a trustworthy statement: If any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do.”
I don’t really know what to say about this verse other than that I have never thought about in this sort of light. Paul commends the earnest desire for spiritual leadership. I think this statement helps me get out of my own way sometimes when wrestle with Jesus’ words that the one seeks to become the greatest must become the least and that the one who seeks to be a leader must become a servant. Paul complements these truths with simple reassurance that there is nothing wrong with the desire to be a spiritual leader. We should, of course, seek to do so in accordance with Jesus’ words, but the desire to be a spiritual leader is not explicitly an issue of pride. It is a noble task.
- 1 Timothy 4:7-9 (The Value of Spiritual Discipline) – “But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. It is a trustworthy statement deserving of full acceptance.”
What message do men and women of the emerging need to hear more than this one? Ambitions are only realized through the grind of discipline. Some idolize the perfect body, and so they gear their lives around the pursuit of that body. Some idolize luxury, so their whole lives revolve around the pursuit of wealth. Some idolize power, so everything they do (how they speak, where they go, with whom they go, etc.) boils down to a pursuit of more and more power. Some idolize sex, so their whole lives boil down to an ever-increasing lust for more and more of it. So many people put so much effort into these transient things, sometimes realizing their fantasies and sometimes not, and yet Paul reminds us that at best the attainment of these things will only bear out rewards for a limited time. Godliness is never a vain pursuit. He is reminding guys like me that I will never regret an hour, a dollar, or an ounce spent in pursuit of becoming like Christ. It yields rewards throughout this life, and yet not merely this life. The rewards reaped toward godliness span through the ages. This single aim in life worth directing all discipline toward.
- 2 Timothy 2:11-13 (Martyrdom and Suffering) – “It is a trustworthy statement: for
If we died with Him, we will also live with Him;
If we endure, we will also reign with Him;
If we deny Him, He also will deny us;
If we are faithless, He remains faithful,
For He cannot deny Himself.”
This statement is the bulwark of any martyr, the only suitable grounds for a man to willingly give up his life. Temporal death for Christ means eternal life with Christ; endurance through suffering in this life means a never-ending reign with Christ in the next. The great peril facing any Christian (and obviously any potential martyr) is that when the fires of persecution are cranked up, he may find himself to be like Peter in the courtyard or like the seed sown on rocky places, unable to bear the heat of suffering that comes with identifying with Christ. Catch it–the great danger facing a martyr (or any Christian for that matter) is not death; it is denial. Jesus was clear about this, “Whoever denies me before men, I will also deny Him before my Father who is in heaven (Matthew 10:33).” Let us pray to God that when suffering comes our way, He will give us the strength to endure when every ounce of our flesh wants to deny. And yet this promise remains: God’s covenant with us and our security in Him is not grounded in our faith. He holds onto us even when we let go of Him. He is faithful even when we are faithless. How great is that??? For God to deny His people would be for Him to deny His own faithfulness to His unchanging promise that He will never leave or forsake us. My belonging to the Father is not dependent on the consistency of my own faithfulness, but on His. Praise God, and may we never forget that.
- Titus 3:3-8 (The Gospel of Grace) – “For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. But when the kindness of our God appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy statement; and concerning these things I want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God will be careful to engage in good deeds. These things are good and profitable for men.”
This statement sounds a lot like an early creed or confession of the faith. This short Trinitarian statement covers man’s utter sinfulness, God’s mercy, regeneration and sanctification by the Holy Spirit, the saving work of Jesus Christ, justification by grace, and the inheritance of eternal life laid away for believers.
In these five trustworthy statements Paul provided a solid ground-floor for his protégés who would continue on in the task of planting and nourishing churches after he was gone. In summary they clearly lay out the Gospel, call for godly leadership in the church, urge Christians to strive for growth in the faith, and encourage Christians facing persecution and even martyrdom that God is both worthy of and faithful in the midst of our suffering. I believe that Paul had every intention of Timothy and Titus storing up these particular words in their hearts, and so it is my aim to do likewise.