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Monday, July 9, 2012

Chief of All Sinners - 1 Timothy 1:15

One of my favorite quotes I read was in Jon Courson's Application Commentary on the New Testament. Reflecting back to my first year or two as a believer, my brother asked for the commentary set by Jon Courson. I remember reading the NT section on 1 Timothy since I was leading my discipleship group at through that book during that time (which consisted of 5-10 students). When I opened up the commentary, Courson had a small section on Paul's statement about being the "chief of all sinners."

The Chief of All Sinners by Jon Courson:
"No one understood this better than Paul. At the outset of his ministry, he declared himself to be the least of the apostles (1 Corinthians 15:9). Later on, he saw himself as less than the least of all saints (Ephesians 3:8). And here in 1 Timothy 1:15, towards the end of his life what does he say? Not, "I once was the chief of sinners," not, "I use to e the chief of sinners," but, "I am the chief of sinners." Paul went from being the least of the apostles, to the least of the saints, to the chief of sinners. How can this be? Did Paul become a worse and worse person the longer he walked with God? No. Paul simply discovered that the closer he drew to the Lord, the more intimate he became with the Lord, and the more he realized how far he was from the holiness of the Lord. The closer Paul drew to the Lord, the more he understood the extent of his sin."

I was reminded about this quote because many years ago I typed a small copy of it and cut it out to place in my Bible. As I was picking up my Bible this afternoon it fell out on the floor, so I picked it up to read it and immediately the quote spoke to my heart about how I needed to draw closer to the Lord. Paul had a vast knowledge of Scripture, but understood how far he was from the holiness of God. Paul had planted many new churches and preached all over the Greco-Roman world, yet he knew it was not enough to be close to the Lord. Paul correctly identified himself in the biblical mirror of depravity. Paul recognized that he was unworthy to claim any righteousness because he was a sinner in need of the grace of God.

Paul's humble attitude lead to his exaltation as the greatest missionary in Christian history. The Lord used him mightily because he did exactly was God requested in order to be used for his glory, "But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word" (Isa. 66:2). Paul was humble, had a contrite spirit, and trembled at God's word. He showed no partiality, lived pure, and revered the Scriptures through Christ-centered faith and practice.

This reality has made me reflect on a few thoughts. No matter how much Scripture I have memorized, no matter how many church services I have attended or ministries I am involved in, I can only grow closer to the Lord if I humble myself before God. The word "humble" occurs nine times in the book of Psalms (18:27; 25:9; 34:2; 55:19; 69:32; 79:6; 89:22; 147:6; 149:4). All of these verses speak of the blessing or curse of humility. If you humble yourself before the Lord, you will be lifted up and blessed. If you do not humble yourself before the Lord, you will be brought down and cursed. The NT writers understood this concept extremely well. The Scriptures make it very clear that humility is the key to spiritual growth in Christ. We can all agree that Jesus was the epitome of humility and provided the greatest example for all people to follow. It was not coincidence James famously lived as a humble man of God and wrote to Christians, "Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you" (James 4:6). Also, Peter, who learned many lessons on humility while following Jesus, wrote strong words of instruction to Christians, "Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you" (1 Peter 5:6).

I know the Lord has a glorious plan and purpose for my life in Christ. Outside of Christ, my life would be a disaster. Nevertheless, I need to humble myself before the Lord everyday through prayer and the obedience of Scripture, so I never become too prideful.

Today, it was important for me to realize how far away I am from the holiness of God in retrospect of the cross of Christ. It was important for me to be reminded about the extent of my sin as a "chief of all sinners."Therefore, I need to daily draw closer to the Lord as Paul so did so wisely.

"The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost [chief]." (1 Timothy 1:15 ESV)

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