Summary: Like the Apostle Paul we are chief of sinners, chosen by grace, and can be cheerful in service.
What Bible character do you most identify with? Do any of you identify with Moses? While you know that God has called you to serve him you’re not sure whether or not you have the abilities to do what he wants. Or how about Martha? You’re committed to serving your Lord but some times forget that listening to his Word is more important than making sure that casserole for the pot luck turns out just right. Maybe you identify with Peter. You’re eager to do God’s will but have the tendency to rely on yourself and so often fall short of accomplishing what God wants.
While we all can identify with those Bible characters in one way or another, I want to show you this morning how we can all identify with the Apostle Paul. Paul, the persecutor turned great missionary and gifted theologian? How can we identify with him? As we study our sermon text I pray that the Holy Spirit leads you to See Yourself in Paul’s Story in three ways: as 1) chief of sinners, 2) chosen by grace, and 3) cheerful in service.
The beginning of Paul’s story is not a flattering one. Paul summarized it like this: “I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man” (1 Timothy 1:13). The first time the Bible mentions Paul he’s described as standing guard over the clothes of those who were stoning Stephen. Paul quickly went from supporting the persecution of Christians to leading it as he went from house to house to drag Christians off to prison. In all honesty, Paul wasn’t any different from the terrorists of September 11th; he too thought that he was fighting a holy war and doing God’s will.
Because of his past it doesn’t surprise us that in our text Paul would humbly call himself the worst of sinners (v.15), after all he had caused God’s people great pain and suffering. But when Paul claimed to be the worst of sinners he wasn’t just referring to the past. He used the present tense saying, “I am the worst” (v. 15). In his sorrow over what he had done did Paul exaggerate in describing himself and his sin? Haven’t there been people who have done worse things than Paul? Take King Herod for example. He had all the baby boys of Bethlehem slaughtered when he found out from the wise men that one of them was a king. Or what about Hitler? He not only orchestrated the deaths of 6 million Jews but caused a war that resulted in the deaths of millions of others. And what about the terrorists of September 11th? Surely Paul could not be as bad as they?
Because of the way God’s justice works Paul was correct in saying, “I am the worst sinner.” When God calls us to give an account for our thoughts, words, and actions he does not do so to compare us to King Herod, Hitler, or the terrorists of September 11th; he compares us to himself. And what does God expect? Jesus said, “Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Therefore if we have broken God’s law in any way, no matter how small the infraction may seem to us, compared to God we are the chief of sinners.
Brothers and sisters, see yourself in Paul’s story and acknowledge that you too are chief of sinners. Don’t fall for the Devil’s lie that you’re not that bad of a person compared to others and therefore will be accepted by God just the way you are. Yes, the terrorists of September 11th will have to pay for their acts of destruction but so will we if we continue to live comfortably in our sin. For Paul said, “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. 4 Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. 5 For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient” (Ephesians 5:3-6).
Thankfully neither Paul’s story nor ours ends in the court of God’s justice; it ends in the palace of his grace. Paul went on to write, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst” (1 Timothy 1:15). Although you and I, and Paul can claim to be the chief of sinners we can be certain that God won’t call us that. That’s because God’s Son, Jesus came to save sinners. As our Saviour Jesus paid for our sins through his death and gave us credit for his perfect life. Therefore when we stand before God’s judgment throne God will not see our sins but the perfect blood of Christ that covers them. Just as sun block keeps harmful UV rays from damaging our skin so the Son’s blood blocks God’s holiness from destroying us.