The Chief of Sinners

Remember when you thought you knew it all? You know, in your teens and early twenties when you had read the Bible from cover to cover and you were “ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15).

Okay, maybe your words were not presented with a whole lot of meekness and fear, but you sure had your answer down pat. And not just for the reason of the hope that was in you but also for all the doctrines that had been pounded into your young head.

You knew what blasphemy of the Holy Spirit was. You knew what it meant to be baptized for the dead. You knew what women could and could not do in the assembly. You knew just how long a woman’s hair ought to be and how short a man’s hair ought to be. You knew what hell was and how long it lasted. And, yes, you even knew who would split hell wide open!

Ah, those were the good old days. For not only did you know the Bible like the back of your hand, but you were a strong and spiritual warrior for Christ. Nobody got away with any false doctrine—not on your watch!

Yeah, you were all that and a bag of potato chips! Maybe you were, as one old lady said, “as good as the Lord and getting better every day.”

And if you were like me, you thought you would never fall. You may have even told God as much. Maybe you said in your heart something like this: God, I love you so much and I’ve been tested and tried with fire, and I cannot imagine anything that could make me turn my back on you—or even falter in my walk with you.

No need to admit it. Most of us have been there. So you understand what I am saying.

But then you grew up. Not only did you grow older but you grew in faith, you grew in knowledge, and you grew in understanding that you may have had a more impressive view of yourself than you deserved.

Well, don’t let it bother you. You are not alone. Look at the words of the apostle Paul, noting the dates when he wrote them.

In A.D. 50 Paul said, “Paul, an apostle (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead;)” (Galatians 1:1). Wow! He was somewhat full of himself, wasn’t he? He was an apostle, made so not by man but by Almighty God! And he wanted everybody to know it.

But look what he said five years later in A.D. 55. “For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (1 Corinthians 15:9). He still called himself an apostle, but he was not quite as impressed with himself, saying he deserved to be least among the apostles—and he did not even feel worthy to be called an apostle.

But keep reading.  By A.D. 60, after five more years of growing, Paul wrote: “Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8). At this point in his walk with Christ, Paul not only thought he was the least of the apostles but he had come to see himself as the least of all saints. Of all the followers of Christ he felt that he was at the very bottom of the barrel.

This is not the end. Paul matured even further so that four years later in A.D. 64 he said: “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” (1Timothy 1:15).

How the mighty have fallen! Well, not really. In actuality Paul had grown. He was closer to God at this point than in the beginning. How do I know that?

1 Corinthians 10:12 Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.

Luke 14:11 For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.

Philippians 2:3 Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.

When we esteem ourselves as spiritually superior to our brothers and sisters, the truth is that we need to do a little more growing. It is when we smite ourselves upon the chest and proclaim “God be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13) that God will hear our prayers and accept our contrite hearts—and send us on our way justified.

So if you have come to believe that you perhaps are not the mighty and powerful soldier of the cross that you once imagined yourself to be, take heart! Remember that as the apostle Paul grew in his service to God, he came to view himself as less than he viewed himself when he began. In fourteen years he went from an apostle of Jesus Christ to the chief of sinners! May God grant each of us a humble heart that is ready always to repent of our wickedness and confess our weaknesses, knowing that but for the grace of God we would all be doomed to hell. Let us take the example of the apostle Paul, being followers of him as he was of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1), and regard ourselves as the least of all the saints and the chief of sinners.