“If he can do that, I can do it.” Ever say that or think it? Or how about, “I might not be the best, but I’m not as bad as she is!”
When we sense deficiencies in ourselves, there is a tendency to measure ourselves against others. Someone we may deem worse than us may give us hope that our situation is not as bad as it seems or feels.
Over the years of witnessing to people who are yet to make a faith commitment to Jesus Christ, I have seen two extremes: the person who does not think they really need to be saved since God is so loving and kind (like a fawning grandfather), or the person who does not think they can be saved because they are so bad. Frankly, of the two, I’d rather deal with the latter – the person who knows they need grace.
On a number of occasions in recent sermon series when talking about the gospel message, Chris and I have used this phrase: Your sin situation that separates you from God is worse than you think, but the grace and provision in Jesus Christ is better and greater than you could ever imagine! The Apostle Paul would shout a hearty “amen” if he heard that line!
In reflection on his past, the Apostle Paul saw himself as the worst of sinners. His situation was bad indeed! It never ceased to amaze him that God’s grace in Christ was so big as to reach down and save a mess such as he was. He writes …
1:12 – I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. 13 Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14 The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. 17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.
So was the Apostle Paul the worst sinner? The first worst sinner? The words here indicate that, meaning the first in a line. He saw himself that way, which is the point he is making. But if not THE worst, it would not take long in the roll call of sinners to get to Paul.
Paul said that his salvation was a pattern for others to see. The word here is an interesting one that speaks of something like a form, or shape, or model figure that could be traced or copied.
I recently heard a sermon where the pastor was talking about grace, and he was mentioning that a prison chaplain told a first-hand story of how a serial killer who ate his victims had come to trust in Christ before his execution. The pastor said, “What would it be like to get to heaven and get the keys to your eternal home on the corner of Gold Street and Emerald Way, only to find out that your neighbor was this guy who was saved at the last minute?” How creepy would that be? Should God’s grace be that big? Or is that just “over the line?”
Theologically speaking, God’s grace is big enough for that.
Trust me, believe me, God’s grace is YUGE! But it is only applied to those who understand that they bring nothing to the deal themselves. Understand that, and you end up saying things like Paul says here, bursting out even into a doxology of praise.
The final thought in this first chapter involves Paul again finishing his opening words to Timothy with a renewed command to Timothy to be faithful and diligent, recalling to his mind the gifts in his possession that were a part of his commissioning to ministry. Others failed in this regard, as Paul mentions a couple names known to them both – men who apparently at one time seemed to be serving well, but through false teaching had seen their faith sink like a ship upon the rocks.
18 Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well, 19 holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith. 20 Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.
Take a moment today to again express your thanks for God’s great grace in your life, while also committing yourself anew to the long road of faithfulness that is the Christian life.