And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.
—1 Timothy 1:12–15
In this age of political correctness where words like sin and hell have become offensive to many both inside and outside the church and therefore abandoned, I find Paul’s words quite refreshing. I find it particularly encouraging that the letters to Timothy were his later writings, and 2 Timothy was his last. So here we have a veteran of the faith and ministry commenting with the quiet and humble recognition of his own sinful state. Keep in mind this was a man whom God had used to reach the known world with the gospel; a man who had started multiple churches (and also riots); a man who at this point had penned epistles like Romans, the two letters to the Corinthians, and even the flagship of Christian theology, Ephesians. Nevertheless, Paul knew it was only by God’s grace, mercy, and abundant love that he was in the ministry. What a healthy perspective!
I cannot help but think of Paul’s words to the church in one of his earliest writings in 2 Corinthians 2:7: “For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.” I believe that the longer we walk with the Lord, the more we will encounter this kind of godly sorrow. This sorrow is not regretted but brings us to the place, even after many years of knowing and serving Him, of recognizing that we are the chief of sinners. But remember, this is not a condemning sorrow, but rather a longing sorrow. It is the realization that because of His mercy, grace, and love, He has put us into His ministry in spite of our own personal “althoughs.”
Friends, there is nothing improper or incorrect about using the words sin, sinner, and hell. It doesn’t drive people away from Jesus, but rather it produces a sorrow that draws them to Him. The better we come to know Him, and the longer we walk with and serve Him, the more evident this is going to become.
I understand fully how Paul felt, for whenever I read these words, I feel like saying, “Move over, Paul. There’s a new chief in town!”
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