“I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. 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 trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” 1 Timothy 1:12-17
What Paul was, was bad. We first meet him in the Bible as Saul in Acts 7, giving approval to those stoning the godly, Spirit-filled Stephen as he preached the truth about Jesus. He harshly persecuted Christians, imprisoned them, raged against and threatened them, carrying out orders from the chief priests with fury and zeal. But then, he was drastically saved by the power of the Lord Who crashed into his rebel-against-God life. His running from God was halted and reversed, his spiritual blindness gave way to new spiritual sight. (Acts 7:58; 8:1; 9:9-19; 22:20; 26:10-11)
But Paul, forgiven and transformed by the Spirit, would never forget who he was without Christ. He taught, reasoned, and preached the gospel, he planted churches, effectively ministering to leaders and congregations and bearing much spiritual fruit, but his natural depravity was always fresh in his mind. This letter to Timothy is one of his last, written from prison after having walked with Jesus by faith for years, and still he calls himself the chief of sinners. Mercifully and wholly forgiven, Paul knew his appointment and calling came from God, and it was Him he desired to honor. He knew that against the shroud of his blasphemous past and his dark heart of flesh, in contrast to his insolence and ignorant unbelief, the grace and love of Jesus sparkled like a translucent gem, and he was delighted to give Him the glory.
When our early walk of dependent faith becomes a trot through complicated life, and the ride of time gets going, we may slide, even subconsciously, into living on auto-pilot, trusting our own inclinations, our ability to make decisions on the spot, to say and do the right thing. But it’s here self-effort blooms and a bit of self-credit and glory not belonging to us sneaks in. Beware! We must never forget our first love, and how He captivated us. We must always remember we were enemies of Christ, rescued by the grace of God for purposes and His glory alone. We must continually trust Him with all our heart, acknowledge Him in all our ways. Remembering who we were helps keep us grounded, and thankful. It also extricates pride and magnifies His grace and glory. (Proverbs 3:5-6; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 5:6-8; Revelation 2:4)
May I, Lord, the foremost of sinners, ever hide behind You, the glorious King of the ages.