1 Timothy 1:15 This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”–and I am the worst of them all.
This verse has bothered me since I was a kid. Some Bible versions translate Paul’s self-abasement as “the chief of sinners.” I have belonged to Jesus for most of my life; and now, at age 36, I only begin to understand what Paul was saying. But first, let me tell you why this particular Bible verse has irritated me for 20+ years.
Let’s look at Paul and his accomplishments. I googled “Paul’s accomplishments” and the first website that came up had a pretty good list. http://www.christianity.about.com describes Paul thusly:
The Apostle Paul, who started as one of Christianity’s most zealous enemies, was hand-picked by Jesus Christ to become the gospel’s most ardent messenger. Paul traveled tirelessly through the ancient world, taking the message of salvation to the Gentiles. Paul towers as one of the all-time giants of Christianity.
Paul made three long missionary journeys throughout the Roman Empire, planting churches, preaching the gospel, and giving strength and encouragement to early Christians. Of the 27 books in the New Testament, Paul is credited as the author of 13 of them.
Paul had a brilliant mind, a commanding knowledge of philosophy and religion, and could debate with the most educated scholars of his day. At the same time, his clear, understandable explanation of the gospel made his letters to early churches the foundation of Christian theology. Tradition portrays Paul as a physically small man, but he endured enormous physical hardships on his missionary journeys. His perseverance in the face of danger and persecution has inspired countless missionaries since. Paul was martyred for his faith in Christ by the Romans, about 64 or 65 A.D.
Ok. If that guy was the “chief of sinners,” then I’m totally screwed. Paul didn’t say “I used to be the worst before Jesus saved me,” he said he was currently “the worst.” Do you see why this verse has driven me crazy? Paul was madly in love with Jesus. He gave his life to spreading the gospel and caring for people. He lived for the church. He was killed for the church. It honestly seemed pretty cruel of him to describe himself as the worst of sinners. Obviously he WAS NOT the worst of sinners. Didn’t he know how discouraging that would be to the rest of us? I’m never going to “live up to” Paul; and if he was “the worst,” then I’m in very big trouble.
But I’m getting older. The fruit is finally ripening and I begin, now, to understand. Let me tell you what I’m learning. The thing is, I’ve been striving hard after Christ lately. Harder than normal. Harder than ever before. It isn’t necessarily something I’ve been doing, more like work He’s been doing in me. The word HOLINESS is echoing in my heart and thoughts all day long. “Holy, set apart for special use, make me holy, Lord,” I’ve been praying.
When Rosie disobeys me and gets a spankin’ on her cute little tush, she learns that disobeying me has consequences. God has graciously disciplined me since I committed my life to him at age five. I’ve learned that when I sin, I’m less happy. I’ve learned that sin and my fallen nature and Ron’s fallen nature and Chloe’s fallen nature and even little Rosie’s fallen nature are the cause of most of my strife. If my day isn’t going well, you can almost always bet that someone’s sin is lurking behind the scenes. Usually my own. I can look back on my unhappy years of marriage and point to all the sin that made those years crappy.
The Bible says sin = death.
Speaking of God’s Word, let me tell you how much I am growing to appreciate it. It is the basis for everything. It is our truth, our roadmap, our wisdom, our happy ending, our hope, our way of sitting next to Almighty Creator God and KNOWING Him. He wants us to KNOW Him. Do you grasp how amazing that is? Do you fathom how weird that is? Can you begin to appreciate how blessed we spoiled brats are? He – the Creator of the world and universes, the One who speaks and matter is born, the One who designed every incredible detail of our bodies, the One who could speak a single word and put an end to us all, wants our love and affection. That’s insane.
So, all of this has marinated in me producing the logical conclusions.
1. The fact that sin makes me unhappy.
2. The fact that I am dearly loved by my Savior.
3. The fact that when Ron and I do things God’s way we are infinitely happier because God is infinitely good.
4. The fact that holiness is hard work (not saving work), but it’s results are peace, joy, satisfaction, feeling adored, feeling complete, knowing what I’ve been made for.
These years of experiences and gradual understandings have brought me to a place where I YEARN to be holy. I’m desperate for more Jesus. I’m addicted. I’m hooked. I’ve got to have more because going without is painful. I AM ALL IN.
The results…… They’ve been interesting. Here I am, more focused on Jesus, and His Church and my calling, than ever before and all I do is screw up. Every day! All the time! I’m selfish. I lie. I’m impatient. I’m judgmental. I’m self-absorbed. I’m seeking my own glory which robs Him of His. It’s overwhelming! I’m gobsmacked by how sinful I am!!! When I was lolly-gagging through life with minimal commitment to holiness, I thought I was a pretty decent person. Now, I can’t get an hour through the day without looking my sinful nature in the face these days. What the heck?!
We are all so yucky.
Paul was no different. He had all the same garbage. He fought selfishness, he fought despair, he fought faithlessness, he fought impatience with jerks, he fought sinful anger, he fought pride, he fought all the stuff we are fighting today. The only difference—nay the only advantage—Paul had was he had his eyes opened and he could see it. If it’s in God’s Word, it is undoubtably true. Therefore, 1 Timothy 1:15 assures me that Paul was a jerk.
You’re a jerk.
I’m a jerk.
We’re all jerks. You can continue to dip your toe in the water and stare with eyes fixed on all the world has to offer (you’ll still be jerk even if you’re too distracted to notice) OR you can dive in. You can choose God’s direction, God’s wisdom, God’s restraints against the sick world we live in, you can choose to be HOLY—set apart for SPECIAL USE; and then, only then, will you find peace, joy, deep fulfillment, love beyond measure, and a true mirror to look into that will show you just how much you needed a Savior.
Dear Jesus, burn the jerk out of me and make me look more like YOU!