Sometimes my Friday posts land on a day that I have had a fight with my husband or I am struggling with one of my children. I may be sifting through thoughts which are feeding a hard heart. It is difficult (but good for me) to write a post on those days because I need to deal with myself. I am indeed a sinner!
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners of whom I am the foremost.
But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.
1 Timothy 1:15,16
I love this verse in 1 Timothy 1:15. The idea that “I am the chief among sinners.” I think alot of people quote this verse. But why?
Is it because we are happy Paul was a greater sinner than us? Whew, at least I am not the chief among sinners! Are we glad Paul has that position covered?
Or Is it because we can appreciate his use of hyperbole? I mean, what person–other than Christ, is more foundational to the new testament and the modern Christian Church than Paul? Surely Paul cannot be the chief of sinners! This verse must be a humble-brag; a false humility expressed through hyperbole (wink, wink). We know you are not the chief of sinners, really, Paul.
But Paul (Saul) was a persecutor of Christians. He was a legalistic Pharisee of Pharisees. A religious zealot who wrongly approved of and sought after the deaths of Christian converts. Maybe he was chief among sinners? But…then he was changed! He met Jesus face to face and was transformed.
He really does seem to see himself as once the chief among sinners. He knows who he was before Christ saved him. He knows who he could just as easily become again if he diverted from following Christ.
We do well to follow Paul’s example here. Not to agree that Paul is chief among sinners, but rather to see ourselves, likewise, as the chief among sinners– recognizing who we were before Him and what we would become without Him.
And what do we gain by doing this? Self-deprecation? No. Hopefully, Christ-exaltation.
Paul received mercy so that Jesus Christ could display his perfect patience–as an example to those who would believe. Christ’s power was on display in the midst of Paul’s weaknesses. And the same is true of us.
Verse 16 seems to offer further understanding:
But I received mercy…for…this…reason… that in me, as the foremost [sinner], Jesus Christ might display perfect patience as an example to those who will be saved.
Confessing our weaknesses to others is effective because it somehow gives others hope and reminds us that we all need Christ.
It’s like being relieved when you see your friend’s house messy. Oh good, she isn’t perfect. Or when a child other than your own throws a tantrum and you are thankful your child is not the only one.
Don’t get me wrong, we must address and tackle the sin which so easily entangles us. For example, to realize my friend’s house is messy does not entitle me to be lazy with my own work nor to assume that she has been lazy. It is not good to use my own or another’s weakness as an excuse to stop fighting sin. But it is good to realize that it is through Christ’s perfect patience and power that he is changing us (sometimes ever so slowly). He is our one defense. He is our righteousness. God’s power through our weakness serves as an example to those who will be saved–that God is the one who changes us and no one is too far gone for that. And it should also encourage us who already believe to keep on keepin’ on!
In Christ’s love, Erika