Today we are reading from 1 Timothy 1: 12-20:
12 I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, 13 even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost. 16 But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life. 17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
18 I am giving you these instructions, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies made earlier about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight, 19 having faith and a good conscience. By rejecting conscience, certain persons have suffered shipwreck in the faith; 20 among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have turned over to Satan, so that they may learn not to blaspheme.
In verse 15, reading from the NRSV, Paul says he is foremost among all sinners. But I always have liked the way that passage reads in the bible I grew up with, the King James where Paul says was chief You’ve probably heard it put like this, Paul was chief of all sinners. That phrase always conjures up something in me, it always makes me think that Paul is the worst of all the people who have ever lived.
Paul was the worst! Right? Isn’t that what it is saying?
Well maybe, but let me tell you how I interpret it. Remember what Paul was before he was a Christian. He was a Pharisee. He was a teacher of the law. He knew the law, he understood the law, he knew what was expected.
He knew right from wrong. He was not ignorant or blind. You could make an argument that more than anyone alive, Paul knew the requirements and expectations of the law.
And you know what he did? He still sinned. He still made mistakes. He still fell. He still messed up. See his wrestling with these struggles in Romans 7. He knew exactly what it was that he should do. His not keeping the law sin and it was weakness.
Others could make an argument that they didn’t know right from wrong or didn’t know what was expected. Paul could not make that argument. He knew. He knew what was expected.
And he still sinned.
That is why, to me, Paul is the chief of all sinners. Because he knew. And still sinned.
And you know who else is in that same boat? You and me. We know, don’t we? There are times when we may be unsure or may not know, but most of the time, we know don’t we? We know right from wrong. We know what we should do. We know.
And we still choose wrong. We are without an excuse. We know.
Paul knew. We know. And just like him, we are chief of all sinners.
That is why I am thankful, so thankful, for grace. I need it, you need it, we all need it. As those who are without an excuse, we should be the most generous to give grace to others, for our God has given it to us.
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