Towards the end of his life, the apostle Paul stated to a young pastor named Timothy, who was also his protégé, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen” (I Timothy 1:15-17).
The apostle Paul, known as Saul of Tarsus, a Pharisee, was a merciless persecutor of the early church and approved of the stoning of Stephen, an early convert and disciple of Jesus Christ (see Acts 6 & 7 for the full story) before Paul’s own conversion to Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus when his life was dramatically and irrevocably changed. Yet even after his conversion, as he stated to young Timothy in the verses above, he still called himself “the worst of sinners.” And he did so in order that “Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life” (verse 16).
It was not a false humility that caused Paul to call himself “the worst of sinners.” While some folks may wonder how Paul could make such a statement many years after his own conversion to Jesus Christ (because the statement was made in the present tense near the end of Paul’s life and not in the past tense), he was essentially stating the same thing I heard Dr. Charles Stanley state about himself many years ago in a sermon when he mentioned that even though he had been converted for many, many years, he was still very much aware that his “flesh” had not changed one bit. In other words, if we do not stay close in our relationship with Jesus Christ and allow the Holy Spirit to rein in our lives our “flesh” can still very much take over and run our lives. Until we are dead this flesh of ours still has power to deceive us in numerous ways.
Ray Stedman makes the following statement regarding Paul’s statement (e.g., being the worst, or “chief,” of sinners):
Some say that this is a kind of humble exaggeration, like we sometimes say,I’m not all that good, really.I do not think it is false humility. Paul means every word of this. He has not forgotten what he has written. What he is thinking of is not what he is in Christ (because in Him he was made righteous and delivered, the power of sin was broken), but he is thinking about himself as a total man living in a world of evil; he is thinking of himself as we have to think of ourselves, made whole in Christ and yet with the flesh still active in our lives. We still struggle against it. It is no longer us but an alien invader still able to exercise its deceiving power over us.
There is hidden here a very important principle that all of us will have to learn sometime or other. Whatever the flesh once manifested itself to be in our lives–some extreme form of evil, whatever we have done that is now, in our own sight, bad, ugly, and something we are ashamed of–we have to remember that that is an area of weakness that needs to be guarded very carefully, because we can return to that in an instant, no matter how long we have been Christians. That is what Paul is talking about.
“Father, once I was blind; I could not see myself for what I was. Yet I thank you that you came and invaded my life and began to take away the veil and to help me to see what I was like.”
Life Application: We have met the enemy and he is us! The wonder is that Christ died for His enemies. Confession makes us eligible for His redeeming grace and forgiveness. (Quote source here.)
“We have met the enemy and he is us” . . . . Jesus Christ died for His enemies (and that includes us, folks, before we were converted if we consider ourselves to be Christian). And Jesus Christ never saw his “enemies” as enemies, but as people in need of redemption. Even though his anger was displayed at the religious folks of his day (who remained blind to the reality of who he was and his mission while here on earth), it was fueled by compassion as he sorely wanted them to believe and not to remain deceived. One of his statements from the cross clearly shows his compassion for his enemies when he stated, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
Paul’s statement to young Timothy about being “the worst of sinners” is a statement that is true today of all of us as this flesh of ours can take over when we let down our guard and become lukewarm in our affection for our Lord Jesus Christ in a world full of compromise that calls to us every minute of every day to give in to it (e.g., gossip, love of money and material possessions, hatred and anger, condemning others, false humility, pride, etc.). It starts out as little compromises and then turns into full blown life patterns if we don’t stay close to the Source of our strength (Jesus Christ) and not depend on ourselves to keep us on the right path (which is our ultimate deception). We have an adversary that is far more stealth then we can even imagine and now would be a good time to study up on spiritual warfare in Ephesians 6:10-18:
The Armor of God
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.
One of the biggest challenges I have faced during this four-and-a-half-year struggle with unemployment is to let go of the anger I have felt for the folks that caused this to happen in my life in the first place. Some of those folks considered themselves to be Christian. So do I. Over the course of this time other factors that branched out from the unemployment situation came into focus–areas in my own life that needed “repairing” by the only “Repairer” that I know (Jesus Christ).
The details are not important. We all have our own “details” that cause us to stumble. However, it has been a long and sometimes arduous process. Sometimes it felt like I was taking three steps forward only to end up taking two steps back in the process. I stumbled a lot. I still stumble. And I’m still unemployed . . . .
It comes as no surprise that Christians are really, really good at hurting each other to include those outside of the faith. That’s because our flesh gets in the way all the time, and it is also because we have a strong tendency to judge all those “others” out there according to our own standards. John 3:16-18 makes it clear that Jesus Christ did not come to judge the world (no, that is God’s ultimate responsibility), but to save it. And as followers of Jesus Christ, that is our responsibility in our relationship to others, also (e.g., to point the way to Jesus and not to judge them). That includes “all” others which encompasses every human being on the planet (and that includes our enemies).
My greatest struggle during these past four and a half years has been with anger. I’ve lost a lot from this whole experience–most of my possessions that I had at the time when I lost my job in Houston and returned to Florida; a steady income with all of the benefits that usually come with employment (e.g., health insurance, etc.); friends who no longer call because it is just too awkward after this much time; rejection from potential employers especially once one has entered the “black hole” of long-term unemployment. And the financial ramifications from long-term unemployment can be staggering. I have learned all during this time that God can and does provide if we turn to Him with a whole heart and while that provision might not be exactly in the way we expect it to be (for example, providing another job for me), it can open up our world to a side of life that we never paid attention to before (which has happened in my own life in unbelievable ways). But I have to admit after this length of time, I am just so ready to move on and get off of this holding pattern.
However, the anger has taken a very long time to get over. While I have always said that I don’t hate those folks who caused this to happen to me (and I don’t), I have been exceedingly angry at them off and on over this long period of time. Had I found another job shortly after losing that one in April 2009 I would have gotten over it fairly quickly and just chalked it up to a bad experience. But it has left me unemployed now for four and a half years and I can’t even get an employer to look at me anymore because of being long-term unemployed.
An incident happened a few weeks back that finally allowed me to let go of that anger. Again, it’s not the incident that matters, but my reaction to it. I finally realized that there is no way I can personally resolve what happened to me when I lost that job. At the time I was fired I was never given a chance to present my side of the story. However, with this final incident I have been able to finally let it go. There can be no resolution on my end, but it’s in God’s hands and He’s the only one who can make a bad situation right. I no longer have any animosity towards my former employer and I’m sure they kept right on trucking after I was fired so I know it’s no skin off their nose (after all, employees everywhere get fired or laid off–rightly or wrongly–all the time), but the resolution for me has finally come–over four years later.
Nobody is perfect in this world of ours. I Corinthians 13:12 states, “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” At the present time, any one of us only sees a mere fraction of what is really going on in this world, and even then it gets skewed from our own perceptions of the events. For Christians, the only way we can keep on track is to depend on Jesus Christ all of the time and not on ourselves and what we want or how we want to perceive and judge others, including our enemies and those we don’t particularly like or want to be around. In fact, I think this would be a good place to include the entire chapter of I Corinthians 13 as a reminder to all of us of what truly matters:
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
We (and I certainly include myself in that “we”) need to stop dishonoring others with our speech and our actions and our attitudes. We need to stop being self-seeking, angry, and judgmental, and stop keeping records of wrongs that have been done to us. And the only way I know how to do that is to let Jesus Christ have total control of every area of my life on a daily basis. After all, the flesh is far too quick to get in the way and once we give in we’ve opened a doorway that is very hard to close again.
While I don’t know how my saga with long term unemployment is going to end yet, I do know that anger can no longer have the place in my life that I have allowed it to have for far too long. And while I cannot be responsible for other people’s actions, I can be and I am responsible for my own.
“Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (I Cor. 13:6-7). Let us not delight in the evil that we do to each other anymore, but rejoice with the truth. And the truth is this: Love always protects . . . always trusts . . . always hopes . . . always perseveres . . . .
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love . . .
And the greatest of these is love . . . .
YouTube Video: “The Struggle” by Tenth Avenue North: