Summary: Paul identified himself as chief of sinners. Is this a right assessment or does someone else deserve that title?
And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry; Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting. Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen
Paul the Apostle was one of those people that Hollywood enjoys making movies about. Here was a man, born a Levite and a Pharisee, who taught the Scriptures to the people and was a member of the Jewish elite. He had influence and power within the Temple, he was a respected man in Judah, and was a man of wealth and he was also a Roman citizen, which was the highest of honors. Saul, as who he was known at the time, was someone who had everything going for him.
Then a new sect began stirring within the people. A Man from Nazareth began teaching heretical views of the Scriptures. These views challenged the accepted ideals of Scriptures and the Elders. This Man, named Jesus, insulted the members of the Sanhedrin and threatened to dismantle their authority. The members met and agreed to conspire against this Man, and do what was necessary to have Him killed. After the opportunity presented itself and Jesus was crucified, the members felt the movement would die off and order would be restored. But after Jesus’ death, His followers became even more dedicated to His teachings and to spreading His heresy. Saul began to persecute those faithful to this following. The first martyr to this new religion, a man by the name of Stephen, was stoned to death by Saul’s command. He spent time going from town to town and having followers of Jesus arrested and thrown in jail.
But on a trip to Damascus, Jesus appeared to Saul and called to him, and called him to be an Apostle, just as He did with His other eleven disciples. After his conversion, which is dated to 31-36 AD (within two to three years after Jesus’ death), Saul spent the rest of his life supporting and building up the religion he tried to stamp out. He became known as Paul at sometime early during his evangelizing, getting a new name for a new man, so to speak. The end-fade to black-roll credits.
We have recorded for us in the Book of Acts the four missionary journeys Paul took to spread the Gospel. We have recorded his arrest and his voyage to Rome to be sentenced. He would not refute his faith even under the threat of death. We know his death was during the time of the Roman Emperor Nero. As a Roman citizen, his death was most likely by beheading, as was the usual sentence and early Church writings (which may not be completely accurate) support this manner of execution.
Paul could not even think of, nor mention, his part in the spreading of the Gospel without expressing his gratitude to the Lord for His forgiving kindness and belief in Paul as a minister; “And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry”. Paul emphasized the grateful attitude of his heart as he talked about this subject, which never failed to excite his humble and admiring thanks. From Christ Jesus, the Lord of the Church, Paul had received the ability and strength for the work of the ministry, of preaching the glorious Gospel of atonement through the works and sacrifice of the Savior. When Jesus called Paul to the office of the ministry He had deemed the man trustworthy for the office the ministry; and Jesus had been Paul’s Leader and his Model in faithfulness.
It is then with wonder and perhaps even confusion that Paul would identify himself as chief of sinners. There have been thousands, even millions that have been called into the office of the ministry, but only twelve have had the honor of having Jesus appear personally to them to bestow the office on them, and Paul was one of those twelve. Certainly not something God would give the chief of sinners. Of all the twelve Apostles, it is Paul’s writings that comprise nearly half of the books of the New Testament, and more than any two other authors in the entire Bible; again, not something God would allow for the chief of sinners. How can this man, so honored by God and respected by Christians be the chief of sinners?