1 Timothy 1:12-20 – Comfortable Words

I am excited about the beginning of our summer study of Paul’s Pastoral Letters. For tonight, we will be discussing 1 Timothy 1. You do not have to have read anything beforehand or bring anything with you tonight. If you a Bible, please bring it, and if not, we have plenty to share.

Tonight we will have the opportunity to look at, what I think, is the most important verse in all of Scripture: “This a true saying and worthy of all acceptance: that Jesus Christ came into the world (cosmos) to save sinners, among whom I am chief.” 1 Tim. 1:15. The totality of the Christian message and the Christian life is summarized within this verse.

Jesus is clear in his mission: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mark 2:17. No matter where we look in the Gospels – the woman caught in adultery, Zacchaeus and Matthew the tax collectors, prostitutes, and the simple penitents – Jesus is forever tending to the broken and sinful. It is the (self-)righteous who reject him and have him crucified. This is why Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556) placed the first half of this verse as one of the “comfortable words” at the end of the Liturgy of the Word in the first Book of Common Prayer. (See, 1979 BCP 332). This is the heart of the Christian message – just as the Word came to those enslaved in Egypt so to does he comes to those enslaved by sin.

The second half of this verse summarizes the Christian life. Paul writes “I am the chief/foremost/worst/greatest sinner.” If this man is the world’s worst sinner (who (1) experienced a personal appearance by Jesus to commission him to preach to the 99% of the world’s population that wasn’t Jewish (Acts 26:12-18), (2) was called up into the third heaven (2 Cor. 12:2), (3) gave up his entire identity and life for Jesus (Phil 3:1-11), (4) endured five lashings, three beatings, one stoning, three shipwrecks, and countless imprisonments (2 Cor. 11:24), (5) founded and counseled countless Christian communities, and (6) wrote half of the books of the New Testament), then where do I fit? Paul’s statement, however, is not meant to be an exercise in comparative morality – my sin is worse than your sin. Rather, Paul’s confessions is an exercise in humility and true contrition before God. It is the same confession given by the Publican in Jesus’ parable (Luke 18:9-14).

The essence of the Christian life is that we stand together in this confession that “I am the chief sinner.” It is only in my recognition that I should be leading the goats into everlasting perdition that I can “humbly count others better than myself” and model Christ (Phil. 2:3). Only when I am the foremost sinner can I begin to understand that I cannot sit in judgment of others because of the log in my own eyes (Matt. 7:1). Only when I am the worst sinner can I take the first step towards forgiving others as I have been forgiven (Matt 5:14) or loving others as I have been loved (1 John 4:19). Only in recognition that I am the chief sinner can I be reconciled to God and to others (2 Cor. 5:21). This is why this verse is said in the Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox Church immediately prior to a person’s reception of the Eucharist (in the same place that the BCP has the prayer of humble access).

Finally, in looking at v.15, it is bookended by the word “mercy.” In v.13 and v.16, Paul writes “but I received mercy.” Jesus consistently excoriates the righteous scribes and Pharisees who meticulously obey the words of Scripture because in their obedience they lack mercy. (Matt. 9:13, Matt. 12:7Matt. 22:23). Mercy is the explicit moral of the parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matt. 18:33) and the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:37). For if God has shown mercy to the chief/foremost/worst/greatest sinner, how much more so will he show it to everyone else.

Dinner is at 6. The menu is pizza. Discussion about 6:45. Compline at 8. Please bring a friend.

Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. 

Luke 6:36

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