His life was almost over. In just a few years, the Apostle Paul, the most famous Christian of all time would be brutally executed under Nero in A.D. 68.
By the time Paul wrote 1 Timothy, he had already lived an extremely successful life of ministry. Few can match his testimony or ministry resume. His had literally seen the resurrected Christ on the road to Damascus. His church planting career remains unparalleled, not to mention his writing career. By this point, Paul had already written Romans, his magnum opus and had endured a lifetime of sanctification through suffering in a way very few Christians are called to endure. Yet as he came to the end of his life he said:
"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 Timothy 1:15)
Sentences like this in the Bible used to really confuse me and frustrate me. I'd read a sentence like this and think, "why would the greatest Christian of all times claim to be the worst sinner of all time?" To me it seemed just like false humility, the kind of tactic one insecure would use to fish for compliments. Or could this be true humility, where one simply says bad things about himself, regardless of wether they were actually true?
But the more I have come to understand the Gospel, the more I understand what I think Paul meant here. Paul wasn't displaying false humility or lying about his growth in Christ, Paul was demonstrating an attitude of the heart conditioned by a lifetime of sin, need, and grace.
Tim Keller, in his insightful article, "The Centrality of the Gospel" suggests the same thing saying,
“We never “get beyond the gospel” in our Christian life to something more “advanced”. The gospel is not the first “step” in a “stairway” of truths, rather, it is more like the “hub” in a “wheel” of truth. The gospel is not just the A-B-C’s but the A to Z of Christianity. The gospel is not just the minimum required doctrine necessary to enter the kingdom, but the way we make all progress in the kingdom.”
The logical progression here goes something like this: - The more I grow in Christ, the more sensitive my heart becomes to sin. - The more sensitive my heart becomes to sin, the more sin I begin to see in my life. - The more sin I see in my life, the more aware I become of my need for a Savior. - The more I become aware of my need for a Savior, the more delighted I am to see Christ as an all-sufficient Savior. - The more I delight in Christ as my Savior, the more I honor Him. Which is the end of all of life (1 Pet. 2:9).
As a church we have begun a series called "The Gospel For Everyday Life." This is the most basic foundation for understanding how the Gospel is not just the A-B-C's of the faith but the A to Z of the faith. Join me in praying that we as a church will grow more deeply in our understanding and appreciation of the Gospel so that we might all join Paul with sincerity and say, "I am the chief of sinners" and then live accordingly.
My friends, a sign of healthy Christian life is not that “you get the Gospel” but that “you never get over the Gospel.”
The greatest sinners need the greatest Savior. We have a great Savior.