Monday, July 1, 2013

The Worst of Sinners

Today is the first day of our 26th week, reading the Bible through together in a year.  Our scriptures this week are:

  • 1 Kings 6; 2 Chr 3; 1 Timothy 1
  • 1 Kings 7; 2 Chr 4; 1 Tim 2; Psalm 44
  • 1 Kings 8; 1 Tim 3; Psalm 30
  • 2 Chr 5-7; 1 Tim 4; Psalm 121
  • 1 Kings 9; 2 Chr 8; 1 Tim 5
In his letter to Timothy, Paul makes a remarkable claim about himself.  He calls himself the "worst of sinners."  

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 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. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen (1 Tim 1:15-17 NIV).

What did Paul mean when he called himself the "worst of sinners?"  Did he actually mean that in God's eyes, Paul's sins were worse than other people's?  Certainly not--in James 2:10 (NIV), our Lord's brother was adamant that one sin is equal to another.

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.

In fact, if we wanted to "rank" sins, Paul's sins would not be as great as many people's.  He held the coats of those who stoned Stephen, yet he never threw a stone himself.  In his righteousness as a Pharisee, he was obsessed with keeping the law.  In Philippians 3:6, he describes his righteousness in terms of adherence to the law as "faultless."   

Paul is not making a literal point that his evil was worse than the evil of others.  He is not ranking himself as worse than serial killers, child molesters, and murderous dictators.  He is simply making the point that in his own eyes, his sins are pretty bad.  Yet, God has shown mercy to Paul in order to display God's own patience.  God in His forbearance waits for the sinner to repent, and then showers divine grace upon even the "worst of sinners."

I've known a lot of people who are much more lenient with others than they are with themselves.  They will readily forgive others for failures, yet they continue to condemn themselves long after God has forgiven them.  Jesus died so that "those who would believe in Him [would] receive eternal life."  His forgiveness is complete.  He no longer ranks your sins as bad, worse, and worst.  Instead, He removes our sin from us, as far as east is from the west (Psalm 103:12).  

Paul did not continue to beat himself up for his failures.  Romans 8:31-39 (NIV) shows his full understanding of God's grace:

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us,who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?  Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies.  Who then is the one who condemns?No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?  As it is written: 
“For your sake we face death all day long;    we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 
 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,  neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Have you ever felt like you are the worst of sinners--that what you've done must be beyond Jesus' ability to forgive?  Paul must have felt the same way at times.  Yet, he fully understood the enormity of God's love and grace.  We all want to rank sins, and declare either ourselves or others to be the worst of sinners.  Yet, God says that those who have been forgiven are FULLY forgiven.  We are not defeated by sin.  Instead, we're more than conquerors.  

I pray that you'll know God's amazing forgiveness today...not just in your head, but in your heart.  I pray that you'll extend as much grace to yourself, and to others, as Jesus extends from the depth of His love.

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