Editor’s note: This content was taken (and updated) from the Sunday School lesson that I prepared and taught for September 13, 2020.
Some people today like to describe bad things as, “the worst”, like “Last Sunday night, my favorite show was delayed because the ball game ran late. Isn’t that the worst?”, or “My friend texted me with something and expected an urgent reply just before I had to meet with my boss. That’s the worst.”
I suppose that if you are a proponent of correct grammar, or if you have seen (or experienced) much worse things in this world, you might tend to bristle at this statement. Sometimes, we know that what a person is going through (when they are abusing this phrase) is definitely not the worst. In fact, maybe you think that people who mis-use that phrase are the worst. (Or maybe not.) If you’re in that category, please bear with me (and Paul the apostle) as we read the following verses from a letter that Paul wrote to another minister named Timothy:
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.
1 Timothy 1:15-16 NIV
Now, sins aren’t ranked in order of how much they disqualify us from being perfectly righteous. A sin is a sin. Still, we recognize that some sins have a bigger negative impact on the world than others. The person who lets internal sins (like envy or pride) take control hurts himself (at least, until those sins spread to his actions), while someone who lies or commits adultery hurts others, as well.
If you were to ask people who they think are the “most evil” people, though, a lot would probably say something like “mass murderers”. When we think of Paul’s life, we find that this is exactly what he had done, along with persecuting innocent people. That behavior was clearly wrong, but God used it to show just how far He can redeem people. Even the people in this world who you and I think are the biggest sinners, well, God’s love extends to them, too.
It is a pity that there are people in the world who believe that they are too sinful to be saved, or that they somehow have to turn things around in order for Jesus to accept them. Neither of these things are true. Jesus takes sinners into His family, and He takes charge of making their lives better.
The more that we Christians can get the good word out (including good words like John 3:16) to those outside of the church, and the less time that we spend judging them (see 1 Corinthians 5:12-13), perhaps the more people we would find who choose to accept Him.
In addition, we should be careful to not miss two other key points, here.
First, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”. Jesus didn’t come to call righteous people, but sinners (Mark 2:17).
- Were you a sinner? (Are you still a sinner?) Jesus came to save you.
- Do you know people who are sinners? Jesus came to save them.
- Are there people in the news who are sinners? Jesus died for their sins, too.
So, the next time you are tempted to identify someone as a sinner, that’s probably OK, as long as we acknowledge our own sinfulness, too. Just remember that we are called to make disciples out of sinners, so ask the Holy Spirit if you should take some time to tell that sinner about this incredible God who loves them, and His Son Jesus who died to save them.
Secondly, Jesus is patient. When we pray for healing or answers, but don’t get them, God is not slow to answer. He just knows the bigger picture. When we pray for others’ salvation, and they don’t accept right away, God still doesn’t want anyone to be lost (Matthew 18:14). Jesus is “immensely” patient. That’s good for us, too, since I don’t know about you, but He has had to be pretty patient with me.
Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.
1 Timothy 1:17 NIV
If there ever was a time to praise God, right after realizing what He called us out of, and what He saved us from, this is probably a good one! May you celebrate and live out that realization today, as well.
- Christian Standard, Volume CLV, Number 9, pages 83-84. © 2020 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- The College Press Commentary, 1, 2 Timothy & Titus, by C. Michael Moss. Ph. D. College Press Publishing Company, © 1994.
- IVP New Testament Commentaries, via BibleGateway.com.
- The Reformation Study Bible, English Standard version, by R C Sproul, © 2015 Reformation Trust,