I Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus are next up in our reading plan. Collectively, these books are known as “the pastoral epistles” because they were written to pastors (Timothy and Titus) and are mostly about how to pastor.

These epistles have always been a part of my life. I learned 2 Timothy before I knew what I was learning was 2 Timothy. I learned in when my church introduced me to the hymn, “I Know Whom I Have Believed”, which, as I latter learned, is taken from 2 Timothy 1:12.


In Bible college, I became aware of what the pastoral epistles really were. I had heard that term as a teen, but it was only during that first year of college that I realized what these letters really were. I also realized at that time how directly they applied to me as a young pastor.

A little later in Bible college came the challenge to memorize 1 Timothy 4. This was the final exam of some ministry course I took. The professor (who remains my all-time favorite prof to this day) told us on the first day of this course that “all” the exam would be was to recite 1 Timothy 4 from memory. I memorized that chapter and aced that exam, and I can still recite that chapter from memory today.

But as is always the case whenever I open myself up to God through His word, I see new and pertinent truths. This was the case when I read 1 Timothy this week.

I Didn’t Know What I Was Doing

I am reading The Message translation this year. I am doing that because I believe one way to hear God through His word is to experience translations I haven’t experienced before. This decreases the chance that I will just gloss over familiar phrases and increases the chance of catching something fresh.

This indeed happened as I read 1 Timothy 1:12-14. Here, Paul describes his life before Christ. I was familiar with the NIV’s account to this description, which puts it like this:

But The Message translates it slightly different. It put Paul’s words like this:

What caught me there was the phrase “I didn’t know what I was doing”. This is the same as the NIV’s “acted in ignorance”, but it hit me a little harder. It did this probably because this is very simple to something Jesus said.

They Know Not What They Do

Jesus made seven statements while on the cross. One of those statements was a plea for God the Father to forgive the crucifiers (and perhaps all mankind). I know this statement best in the KJV, which puts it like this:

“For they know not what they do.” That is how Jesus described the actions of His crucifiers (and, again, perhaps all mankind). That is how Jesus excused His crucifiers. It is the basis of His appeal for forgiveness. “They know now what they do.” They are doing something legitimately terrible, but they are doing it out of ignorance more than intent.

Paul says something similar in 1 Corinthians 2:8:

According to Paul, those who crucified Jesus (which, yet again, Paul seems to be expanding to a far larger group than those who were simply involved in the crucifixion at that place and time) did not understand what they were doing. They did not understand how terrible what they were doing was.

And now Paul is placing himself in that same group. He says that prior to his life-changing encounter with Jesus, he did not know what he was doing.

This “caught” me. I saw right away that this was not only an awesome truth, but one that directly applied to my life in a couple ways.

Not Knowing and Forgiveness

The first is forgiveness. It is interesting that both Jesus and Paul attach a degree of mercy to this not knowing. They acknowledge the reality that people are acting terribly, but they also mitigate that reality with the additional reality that these people truly don’t know how terrible their actions are.

This was something God brought to my attention last Easter (I think; maybe it was the Easter before). I saw a commercial which depicted the Crucifixion and contained that “they know not” statement, and I realized the same was true of the people who have hurt me. While I tend to think that anyone who has hurt me has done so with calculated intention, the truth is the opposite. These people didn’t know how badly they were hurting me. Even if they were intentionally hurting me, they didn’t know how bad hurting people is; they didn’t understand the gravity of what the Bible calls “violence” and “cruelty” (as I’ve written about in previous blogs). 

This fact makes it easier to forgive these people. When I know they are acting in ignorance (even if they don’t think they are acting in ignorance), forgiveness becomes a far simpler matter.

That’s what I saw at Easter. What I saw during this week’s reading, though, is that the same is true of me. Jesus was applying this truth to other people, but Paul was applying it to himself. In the same way, I can apply it to myself. Though I hate the sinful things I have done in the past, I acknowledge that I did these things ignorantly, not knowing I was doing wrong or at least not knowing I was doing as wrong as I was.

This in turn makes it easier to accept God’s forgiveness. If God forgave Paul’s ignorance, I know He can and will forgive mine as well. If Paul received God’s forgiveness on the basis of his not knowing what he was doing, I can do the same. And that is a great insight.

The Opportunity to Know

Another great insight, though, is that I don’t have to remain in ignorance.

Paul did not. He was in ignorance at one time, but Jesus showed him the way out. Once he saw that way, he took it.

We, again, have the same opportunity. Jesus does indeed “show the way”, as the old chorus “Lord, I Lift Your Name On High” says. He has taught us the severe wrongness of cruelty, violence, and a godless way of living. In so doing, He offers us an escape and an alternative.

This is perhaps even better than receiving forgiveness. It is one thing to be forgiven for my ignorance; it is a great thing to be sure. But it is another to be able to enter a life of knowledge and wisdom. That is a great thing, too, maybe a greater one. And Jesus is giving us that great thing as well. He’s giving us the opportunity to know.

More In The Pastorals

There is certainly more in the pastoral epistles than this little truth. In fact, this little truth is far from the main idea of the epistles.

But it is a great idea. It is an idea that is blessing me tremendously. And I’m hoping it will do the same for you.

Pastor Doug McCoy
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