What kind of person is the worst of sinners?
Last week we looked at a list of things that are clearly offensive to God. Paul described them as being contrary to the “wholesome teaching” of God. As Christians, we want to recognise that we have repented, and that we’re at least trying to walk in the light.
So when Paul here claims he’s the worst of all sinners it doesn’t quite ring true, does it? Surely, he must be the best of us? And why this preoccupation with sin anyway? Can’t we move on a bit? Can’t we speak more about love?
When you grasp what Paul is saying here, you might be able to join in with him in v17 – in your emotions as well as in your mind.
Your testimony isn’t about you (12-14)
Remember that Paul is writing to Timothy, the young pastor at Ephesus. Some people had been teaching in Ephesus “other-teaching” – things that were different from what Paul taught.
How can you know who is right? Paul gives a few words of testimony:
- He shows how he isn’t working on his own steam, but he’s appointed and strengthened by God
- He also puts his sin, and the work of Christ, faith and grace at the centre of his message (which works as a corrective to the “other-teaching” of the false teachers).
The false teachers would seem to have been misusing the law. But Paul was appointed by God (1:1) and then entrusted by God with the Good News of Christ (1:11).
So Paul must have been quite a guy? No. Read 1 Timothy 1:12.
He is grateful to Christ who strengthens him to do his work. We thought about this when we looked at our motto text – how the Lord gives grace (divine assistance) when we ask for it:
- Hebrews 4:16 So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.
- 2 Corinthians 12:9 “My grace is sufficient for you.”
- Philippians 4:13 I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. Play the piano? Hula-hoop? No, but everything he has planned for you to do. Divine assistance
The point is that Paul has been appointed by God and then sustained by the divine assistance of the Holy Spirit. So Paul’s teaching isn’t really his, it’s from the Lord himself.
All this is pretty remarkable when you think who Paul had been. Read 1 Timothy 1:13.
- These are words of testimony. Paul doesn’t look good.
- He’s referring to the time when he was knows as Saul of Tarsus, back in Acts 7-8.
- Saul who led the mob who stoned Stephen to death.
- Saul who travelled the country rounding up Christians and throwing them in prison for blasphemy.
Saul, Pharisee of Pharisees who was as religious as you could get – but because he denied that Jesus was the Son of God, the Messiah, he was very much of the spirit of antichrist (1 John). You might be very religious yourself. You might say prayers, read Scripture, do stuff for charity, shun obvious evils, etc. But if you have never put your trust in Jesus Christ as your only hope of forgiveness and relationship with God, then you “blaspheme the name of Christ” (v13).
He says he acted in “ignorance and unbelief” but he was still accountable for his actions. And so are you for yours. Only the mercy of God could help him; and only the mercy of God can help you too.
- Our society is full of people who are in “ignorance and unbelief”. But you’re here, reading this.
- So if you continue in ignorance and unbelief you multiply your blasphemy against Christ. You’re accountable.
God is rich in mercy
But thankfully God is rich in mercy. Read 1 Timothy 1:14. There’s a superabundance, and overflowing of grace. God doesn’t call you to perfection. He calls you to faith, to experience the love that he has displayed towards you by giving you Christ. And he himself grants you faith in love, out of the overflowing of his grace.
God intervened in Paul’s life to save him. He has intervened in your life to bring you here to hear this.
He calls you; he loves you; he is gracious; he grants faith.
Paul’s testimony is about Jesus. Your testimony isn’t a selfie, it’s a portrait of Jesus, of God’s grace – bringing him glory (not you!). In these verses the phrase “Jesus Christ” comes up 4 times, and words relating to faith five times (hard to see in English).
Because the heart of the Good News of Jesus is about Jesus himself, and trust in him – the trustworthy one.
Jesus is good news for you, sinner (15-16)
Remember last week we looked at how Paul said the law of God is actually for the law-breaker. The law highlights to you the fact that you are subject to God’s wrath when you sin, where sin is defined by God alone. You need to know this.
Read 1 Timothy 1:9-11.
You might be shocked or appalled at the disconnect between what God forbids and what you consider normal, appropriate life values and beliefs. The law of God can’t change. And it’s good, because God is.
You are called to repent, to turn away from your sin, turn to God.
It might sound back to front, but you need to know you’re a sinner if you are ever to be welcomed and blessed by God. Read 1 Timothy 1:15.
- Your only hope is Jesus – who he is and what he’s done.
- You won’t find anything in your own heart that will give you any hope when you come face to face with God.
“came into the world”
- Notice the wording. Jesus wasn’t a nice, loving man who decided to make the world a better place.
- He is the eternal Son of God, eternally coexisting with the Father outside of time.
- He stepped down from his majestic glory to become human – entering the world in Nazareth in the womb of a young virgin woman, then being born in Bethlehem.
- That moment was God the eternal son being seen by human eyes!
- He came with great purpose. Not simply to teach. Not only to heal. Not even to be a great example – though he was all these things and more.
- He came from heaven to save.
- Because you can’t save yourself. Your sin condemns you and there’s nothing you can do about it.
- And you need to acknowledge that sin, because:
- He came to save sinners. God came down to save sinners.
- If you deny that you’re a sinner (as God defines sin) then you’ll never appreciate what Jesus has done for you.
- You’ll never be saved. Your sin will carry you to hell.
How did he do it?
What did he do to save you?
- By taking the punishment your sins deserve.
- The punishment your sins deserve is death.
- Jesus died on that cross to take the punishment of sinners. He could do that because he wasn’t a sinner himself (else he’d have died for his own sin), and because he is the Son of God who came into the world.
You are a sinner before God. It doesn’t matter what society calls good or evil, only what God does.
You will be punished for your sin, unless you trust in Jesus to have been punished for you.
- Repent of your sin; turn to God and cry out for forgiveness!
- Will he forgive? Might he be a bit begrudging?
- “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.”
- He will save you too, as you repent and ask. Trust his word.
But Paul adds a bit on the end: “- of whom I am the worst”.
Really? This Pharisee of Pharisees? Worse than all those things he listed in v9-11?
- He certainly felt so, having been instrumental in the stoning of Stephen, persecuting Christians, and denying that Jesus is Messiah, Saviour, Lord, Son of God.
The worse of sinners – in the Present Tense
But notice that he says, “of him I am the worst” (not “was”).
- As you grow in Christlikeness and step ever closer to his light, your sins are multiplied twice over:
- First, simply because you of all people know better
- Second, your sins are shown clearer by being closer to the light; your shame before Christ is huge
- Is it better not to grow in Christlikeness, if that’s how it feels? No, of course not.
- Not to grow dishonours him, and denies your spiritual union with Christ, the holy one.
- No, even as a Christian your sin doesn’t leave you.
- But you can always circle round: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; to save you.
- So you never lose sight of your sin – and you may well become ever more aware of it as you mature.
- Do you feel bogged down by current or past sins? Jesus came to save you. Repent, and go to him again & again.
- Always, always – you return to Jesus and glorify him.
These things keep us humble in our evangelism too.
Read 1 Timothy 1:16.
Evangelism based on “you’re a sinner” only can seem cold and hard, but “you’re a sinner and I’m a forgiven sinner, let me tell you about Jesus” is much warmer. Every one of us is an example of Jesus’ forgiveness; you have a testimony about Christ to tell.
And while you might feel weak, remember that Christ lives and gives grace and help in time of need. V12: “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength to do his work.”
But the church generally needs to be clear on sin. “Jesus loves you” is true, but it’s not the whole gospel. Unless we’re clear on sin, we can’t call people to repentance.
Give glory to God (17)
Is v17 a bit of a sudden shift? Read 1 Timothy 1:17.
Paul does this in some of his letters – usually after reflecting on some aspect of God in Christ that relates to Paul himself. These words are rich and lovely; they’re all about God. But they aren’t just words; this is the response of Paul’s heart.
True praise of God only speaks of God.
God is worthy of praise in and of himself – even if he had never done anything in creation or salvation.
- Your sin grieves him, and as he makes you aware of your sin and accountability it grieves you too.
- You then find him not only to be Judge, but also Saviour.
- Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, which includes you.
- You can be saved by faith in Christ Jesus.
- That’s not against the will of God, nor is it presumptuous on your part – it’s what he came to do and delights to do.
- You add nothing to your salvation: Not attendance, not giving, not baptism, not communion, not evangelism.
- Salvation is of the Lord; he does it, and all you have to do is repent of your sin and cry out to him for forgiveness.
There’s nothing left for you to do but to praise him. You will praise him for all eternity.
You will have a heart that doesn’t sin – or even get tempted. Then you will find out what love really is, what bliss feels like, what security, peace, and joy really are. That will be your eternal experience because those things are only found in God, revealed in Jesus, and given freely to you.
“All honour and glory to God forever and ever! He is the eternal King, the unseen one who never dies; he alone is God. Amen.”