The Chief Among Sinners
By Jack Kinsella
Based on my own personal experience, I find that most Christians tend to fall into one of two categories.
In one category are those Christians who question whether or not somebody else is really saved.
“That guy smokes and drinks and never goes to church, but he claims to be a Christian. I’m not buying it. Where’s the fruit?”
(In this category one generally finds people that don’t smoke or drink.)
On the other is the Christian who believes everybody else can be saved — but him.
“I’m the worst sinner ever. How can I be saved?”
The Apostle Paul had a ready reply to those of both perspectives.
“This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” (1st Timothy 1:15)
Is this hyperbole? Was Paul simply being self-effacing? Was it Paul’s way of putting other sinners at ease?
“Don’t be so hard on yourself. You think you’re bad? I’m the worst!”
I don’t think so. Revisit Paul’s opening statement in context:
“This is a FAITHFUL saying, and worthy of ALL acceptation…” In other words, “this is a trustworthy statement worth sharing.”
Having said that, Paul goes on to tell the most important truth ever revealed, that Christ came into the world to save sinners, then brackets that eternal truth with a lie about his (Paul’s) being chief among sinners?
There is a rule of logic that essentially says that if any part of a statement is false, then the statement itself cannot be true.
You see the problem?
If Paul’s statement about himself cannot be trusted, then how can his statement about Christ be any more credible?
For we know that the Apostle Paul was no Stalin. He was no Hitler. Paul certainly participated in the persecution of Christians before his conversion, but Paul wasn’t Nero.
“Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting.” (1st Timothy 3:16)
Paul claims to be chief among sinners. But what does the Bible say is chief among sins?
“Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. ” (Matthew 12:31)
Paul says that “in me first” did Jesus show forth all ‘longsuffering.’ But Paul didn’t deny Jesus to His face, not once, but three times.
That was the Apostle Peter. (What was his title, again? Oh, yeah. Chief among the Apostles.)
So here we have two sinners. The Chief Apostle, who committed the ‘chief’ sin, (according to no less an authority than the Lord Himself) blaspheming the Holy Spirit by denying Jesus.
The other claims the title of ‘chief among sinners.’
The word ‘holy’ comes from a Greek word that means ‘separated’ — in this context, it means ‘separated’ from the world of sin. In context, Peter and Paul were therefore two of the holiest men who ever lived.
They were Personally ‘separated’ from the world by Jesus Christ! But neither went on to live a sinless life. Peter fell back into some legalistic Judaic practices and had to be publicly upbraided by Paul. (see Galatians 2: 11-21)
Paul approached the Lord three times, requesting the Lord remove a “thorn in his flesh,” a “messenger of Satan sent to buffet me” — complaining that this infirmity hindered his ability to minister effectively.
Paul wasn’t lying when he said he was chief among sinners back then. And I am not lying when I say that I am chief among sinners today.
I don’t know every sinner. But I’m the worst sinner that I know. Thus it is with each of us, if we are honest. I may know of a Christian who commits more obvious sins than I do — but I cannot honestly name somebody who sins MORE than I do.
The only sins that I know others commit are the sins I actually see them commit. I am with me all the time.
I am with me when I get cut off in traffic. I am with me when I think bad thoughts. I am with me when I do things I wouldn’t do if I was with my pastor.
I am with me when I am uncaring for strangers, unkind to loved ones, unreasonable, unthankful, unholy, disobedient…the list goes on.
So OF COURSE, I am my generation’s ‘chief among sinners’. I don’t know ANYBODY who sins more than me. (And if you are honest, I suspect you can probably say same the same thing about you.)
Peter was called out and separated by Jesus Christ to serve the Gospel. But Jesus did not drop him like a hot rock after Peter said, “I don’t know Him.”
Jesus called out Paul on the road to Damascus and separated by Jesus Christ to serve the Gospel. He told Paul to stop worrying about his problems with the messenger of Satan.
“And He said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for My strength is made perfect in weakness…” (2nd Corinthians 12:9)
I was called out and separated by Jesus Christ one winter night in 1975 to serve the Gospel. That is what salvation is all about — being separated for the Great Commission.
But it isn’t YOU that does the separating. It is Jesus Christ. If it is you that is the one doing the separating, then how would you go about it?
The answer would seem to be obvious. You avoid places where sin is going on. You stay away from people that might lead you into sin.
You surround yourself with other like-minded Christians and you separate yourself from the world. That’s what Paul said to do. Didn’t he?
“Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?
And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?”
Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.” (2nd Corinthians 6:14-15)
But clearly, that seems contradictory. When Jesus was criticized for mingling with sinners, Hereplied, “It isn’t the healthy that need a Physician.”
So what is Paul talking about? Paul’s letter was addressed to the body of believers at Corinth who had fallen into all kinds of pagan practices.
He was speaking to the Corinthian church’s practice of mingling idol worship and depraved parties masquerading as the Lord’s Supper with some sins “such are are not even named among the Gentiles.”
Individual believers are, by virtue of their salvation, already called out and made separate (holy) and righteous (by imputation) but ‘not by works of righteousness that we have done, but by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost.’ (Titus 3:5)
The New Covenant with the Church Age is not corporate agreement between God and a specific people, but rather is individual relationship between Jesus Christ and just ONE person — you.
That is why God does NOT punish believers. And God does NOT visit the sins of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.
The children have their own accounts to settle. Individually.
“My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of Him: For whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth.” (Hebrews 12:5-6)
There are two points to see here. The first is the difference between chastisement (chastening) and punishment.
Chastisement is correction — parents correct their children by chastising them until they fall back into line. The chastisement stops when the behavior is corrected.
Punishment is different. It is retribution — punishment continues whether the offender changes his ways or not. If you are serving a life sentence, changing your ways is nice, but it has no effect on the sentence.
I don’t know about you, but while I loved them all equally, all my children were different. Although the rules were the same, it was necessary to set different boundaries with each one of them.
I had one way of dealing with the kid who tried a puff off a cigarette (and didn’t like it) than I did with the kid who had a pack of butts hidden in his bedroom.
Same rules, same offense. But it was a greater threat to one of them than it was the other and so one of them needed a firmer form of correction than the other.
Is God not as good a parent as you or I?
The Lord doesn’t have one set of rules for one Christian and a different set of rules for another. The rules are the same for us all.
“Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
On these two commandments hang ALL the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
Don’t let the enemy steal your victory. Nobody is perfect except God and He made you the way you are for His glory and according to His purpose.
His strength is made perfect in weakness, He told Paul. Paul didn’t argue with the Lord and demand that God change Paul into the kind of Christian that Paul thought he ought to be.
He didn’t get mad at God for his afflictions. Instead, Paul responded,
“Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2nd Corinthians 12:9)
So, you think you are weak and ineffective at your calling and unworthy of your salvation? You think you are too big a sinner to be used of God?
Then you’re perfect for the job.
This Letter was written by Jack Kinsella on March 17, 2010.