Friday, December 18, 2009

Of Whom I am Chief


“Of whom I am chief” (1 Timothy 1:15)

May I be so bold to say I believe this is the most essential verse in all of Scripture on the topic of evangelism. So many aspects are packed into this one little phrase that we could write many posts speaking of its significance but let me briefly tell you why I believe this verse is so essential to the spread of the gospel. The gospel is the work of God unto salvation for sinners “of whom I am chief.”

Not one person unless set apart by God’s grace would affirm this status. We love ourselves way too much to confess that we are the chief of sinners. In our hard hearted state we viewed life through me-centered lenses. As we would commit sinful acts we would justify them by defining ourselves as predominantly good people. The truth about humanity squashes this notion that we are ultimately good people. Because of Adam in Genesis 3 our status is guilty before God. We are born sinners. If you polled a group of people I believe most, if not all, would admit that they are not perfect but they would also say they are good people. Here is the danger: Good is not good enough nor will it ever be good enough. The world considers this a foolish notion because they can always find another person who acts worse than them. They see through shallow eyes that give no evaluation of the heart, mind and motives of people. An unbelieving soul would never claim the status of sinner “of whom I am chief.”

The gospel is also presented in this little phrase. Claiming to be the chief of sinners is not a self-esteem booster. A man sinfully could make this claim to invite self-pity from others but true humility would not be found in his life. A humble man truly affirms this claim without having to announce it in the streets. His life is a reflection of the reality. This phrase comes from Paul’s testimony about the transforming power of the gospel: “I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 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” (1 Tim. 1:12-15). When I’ve read this text in the past I’ve often thought how horrific Paul’s life was before Christ but that is pride welling up inside of me. Reading this text ought to remind me of my own life before Christ. I too acted ignorantly in unbelief but praise God for his great grace that saved a wretch like me.

This is why I believe understanding my title as “The chief of sinners” is the greatest verse on evangelism. This title wipes away every judgemental thought and notion about others. Pridefully I see the lives of many people and think “There is no hope for them.” Sadly, my pride has a hold of me at that moment and the gospel is lost. My mind needs to be refreshed of my life before Christ (Ps. 51:3). My heart needs to be reminded of the gospel that saved me (1 Cor. 15:3-4). My eyes need to gaze upon my Savior’s bloody body that was crucified for my sins (2 Cor. 5:21). When my mind, heart and eyes are fixed upon these realities humility will produce itself in my life. Saying I’m “The chief of sinners” will mean nothing if I’m still cold-hearted toward a dying world. This reality is what will cause every Christian to go forth and make disciples in the name of Christ (Matt. 28:19). Then when we see Christ working in the lives of other sinners we can praise him as Paul did: “To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen” (1 Tim. 1:17).

Grace upon grace,
JRL

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