1 Timothy 1:15-17 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 unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.
We think of Paul as being a unique individual, and in many ways he was, since God used him to write half of the New Testament. However, he saw himself as an example, that there would be many “Pauls” running around serving God. This whole section is talking about how amazing it is that God would use someone who was as Paul was, as proof that God can use anybody. We need to remember the level of faith it took for Ananias to go to Paul, under God’s direction, to pray for him. (Acts 9:10-19) Paul was not a nice guy! That said, there have been many such conversions throughout history. John Newton, the author of Amazing Grace, is another famous example, going from being a slave trader to being a pastor. The list could easily go on and on, but the point is that none of us are worse than those people were, and God is certainly big enough to use us, as He used them. The devil uses pride in tricky ways, convincing us that our faults are too great for God to overcome. How absurd! It is in no way hubris to think that the God who created the universe by His word could use any part of His creation any way He liked, specifically including us. Rather, it is hubris to think that our faults are somehow insurmountable obstacles for Him. We think that way only because our focus is on ourselves, instead of on our omnipotent Creator, our heavenly Father. We don’t understand why Paul would break into a doxology here, praising God, because we don’t believe God is great enough to use anybody at all. Paul is offering himself as an example, not of someone who really had what it took to serve God, but of God’s patience with someone who, in the natural way of things, was a hopeless case. With God, no one is hopeless!
My own experience of God’s gracious patience isn’t identical to Paul’s, but it is no less deep. Despite an amazing list of advantages in birth and upbringing, I got firmly mired in spiritual pride, as though I had earned and/or deserved all those advantages. In the process I essentially threw them all out the window. Thinking back, I believe I could easily have become a sociopath. However God, in His incredible mercy, tapped me on the shoulder and showed me a mirror, so that for a split second I could really see myself. That was all it took, and I collapsed on the floor, crying out, “My Lord and my God!” I have told that story many times, but God’s patience certainly didn’t stop there. Thankfully, it’s still operative! I have grown in the almost 50 years since that experience, but I’ve still got a long way to go. I get disgusted at myself at times, and am reminded that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) If God can be patiently gracious with me, He can be patiently gracious with anybody. That is exactly what Paul is saying here, and it is my testimony as well.
Father, thank You for this reminder. I think You’ve given me Sunday’s message! Guide me in writing the notes so that I will be fully prepared for You to speak through me. Put a guard on my lips that I would not say anything You don’t want said, and may I speak in such a way that You alone get all the glory, because You alone are worthy. Thank You. Hallelujah!