He was actually bragging about being the best at being the worst! I’m not kidding! I sat in front of him staring in absolute disbelief at what I was hearing. I was lamenting the shallow commitment of my own heart to the rigorous practice of the Faith when he chimed in that “his people” were even more shallow in the practice of the Faith. I would bring up examples of my own slothfulness (look it up. It will be good for you!) and he would “one up” my example by insisting that his tribe was worse still. It almost seemed he felt that he had to protect the “honor” of his tribe by insisting that they were the best at being the worst!
To be fair, it actually is important to claim the title “chiefest of sinners.” In fact, the truth is I am the worst sinner who has ever lived. And so are you!
Look at our lesson today in 1 Timothy 1:12-17:
Timothy, my son, I thank him who has given me strength for this, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful by appointing me to his service, though I formerly blasphemed and persecuted and insulted him; 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 sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. And I am the foremost of sinners; but I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience for an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.
St. Paul is teaching his spiritual son, Timothy, some valuable lessons about the power of God to overcome our brokenness and our past behavior. Timothy knew all too well about Paul’s past and how Paul had, when he was still called Saul, actually given consent to the murder of the very first martyr of the Christian Faith, St. Stephen in Acts chapter 7. Paul had been a very zealous persecutor of the early followers of Jesus. But God had other plans for Paul.
Paul starts by telling Timothy that God proves His strength by actually calling a former persecutor of the Church to be an ambassador of the Church! I think of this every time I hear someone give me the excuse for why they don’t come to church services. They tell me they have to get their life straightened out first before they can come to church. Hogwash! God already knows all of your weaknesses and bad choices. The way to have your life healed is to come when you’re sick, not when you’ve healed yourself!
Next St. Paul insists he’s the “foremost of sinners.” How can he say this? Is Paul being overly dramatic or does he suffer from low self-esteem? No. St. Paul is telling the truth; he is the foremost of sinners, and here’s why. Each of us are free, unique, and unrepeatable persons. This means that no one who has ever lived or ever will live will express our common human nature like you. Of course, this means that you are of infinite value. But it also means you and your choices are unique. That means no one can do good like you and no one can do bad like you!
But Paul isn’t talking about breaking rules when he says he’s the foremost of sinners! He’s expressing the very root of what sin is and it isn’t rule breaking; it’s woundedness! You are unique, and that means your woundedness is unique as well. That also means you are in need of the healing grace of God, your Creator, and He knows all about your uniqueness. So, His grace, His “medicine of immortality” is tailored for your needs! He is YOUR LIFE!
God’s grace to make the Apostle Paul the man he is displays God’s love and power for all to see. Just like when you cooperate with God’s grace, the person you become also shows the world what God can do in a life given to Him!
Today, you are the foremost of sinners, and so am I. Isn’t it wonderful that God’s grace is always more powerful than our mistakes! It makes being Orthodox on Purpose worth all the labors to have the “medicine” of the Faith applied to your life!