- Tim. 1, 15-17
Holy apostle Paul visited us with the most joyful message of encouragement and hope. “This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Of these I am the foremost.”(1. Tim. 1, 15) “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” (Jn. 3, 16)
Here is the most abridged sense of Christmas: ”For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost” (Lk. 19, 10)
Paul, good apostle of ours, a great sufferer and confessor of Crucified Christ, he who enlightened the whole polytheistic world of that time with teachings of Resurrected Christ, he who was, in the body or out of the body, brought up to the third heaven, (2. Cor. 12, 2) here he calls himself the worst of all sinners.
I mediated about this, and thought at first: the Apostle calls himself the worst sinner out of his modesty. We know that he used to be a terrible sinner long time ago. He himself claims that he is not worthy to be called the apostle, “because I persecuted God’s Church”. (1. Cor. 15, 9) He was devastating Church in his eagerness, “entering into houses and forcedly dragging men and women, he put them away in jail.” (Acts, 8, 3) He breathed treat and murder to Lord’s disciples. (Acts, 9, 1) By his contribution to the death of the first Christ’s martyr, deacon Stephan, he was brought into the Holy Script. Since he was too young to be allowed to throw stone at God’s saint, he was guarding the clothing of those who stoned Stephan; (Acts, 7, 58) so that, freed of them, they could have stronger swing of the arm and they could hit more murderously. He “approved murdering them.” (Acts, 8, 1) When later he was settling his life accounts, he confessed honestly: ”I myself once thought that I had to do many things against the name of Jesus the Nazorean, and I did so in Jerusalem. I imprisoned many of the holy ones with the authorization I received from the chief priests, and when they were to be put to death I cast my vote against them. Many times, in synagogue after synagogue, I punished them in an attempt to force them to blaspheme; I was so enraged against them that I pursued them even to foreign cities.” (Acts, 26, 9-11)
But Lord had decided to make for himself the most devoted servant out of the biggest sinner, torturer and blasphemer. On the way to Damascus, where Savle was heading to kill Christians, Christ himself stopped him, illuminated him with His light up to the point of blindness and made Paul, the prosecuted martyr, out of prosecutor Savle.
You can see what Lord is doing. Paul’s example is an encouragement not to lose hope ever.
His words of encouragement were directed to the young bishop Timothy at the first place. We can see which problems had come upon Timothy from answers and advice given to him in his Epistle. He was criticized that he was too young. (1. Tim. 4, 12) He had to oppose to appearance of false teachers (1. Tim. 1, 18-20) and false teaching. (1. Tim. 1, 3-7; 4, 1-3; 6, 3-5) He came into conflict with the lack of worthy church leaders. (1. Tim. 3, 1-14) He was introducing order in religious service. (1. Tim. 2, 1-5) Because of all of these he could have become hesitant, fainthearted. Therefore his older and more experienced brother, who was having the same problems in Ephesus for three years, sends a massage to him: When God made His servant out of me, who used to be like that, you have nothing to worry about, He will not let you out of His divine hands. But only under one condition: “I was not disobedient to the heavenly sight”; (Acts, 26, 19) and you should also not be, son. Accept your troubles with joy.
And to us, once again, Paul’s example is an encouragement that hope for God’s grace and His Providence is never to be lost. But only, we have to take into account: Lord did not convert Salve into Paul, turned him toward Himself and made even all the accounts just that easy. You shall go, you shall be spreading around my Name, you shall walk over red-hot ways of this wide world, but you shall also, along the ways, repent your old sins and made them even and pay for them by terrible sacrifices. On each clear day and all dark nights you shall sacrifice repenting worthy fruits. I shall show you how much you should suffer for my Name. (Acts, 9, 16)
From Savle being a former sinner till meeting with Lord and his being converted, up to the writing of this Epistle more than twenty years passed. He, now being Paul, another and a different man, states for himself that he is the worst sinner of all. Moreover, in his statements we can see the gradation of sinning process. In the earliest written, the First epistle to the Corinthian Christians, he says for himself that he “is the smallest of the apostles”; (1. Cor.15, 9) in the Epistle to the Ephesians, which was made later, he considers himself the smallest of all holies, the smallest of all Christians; (Eph. 3, 8) and here in his first Epistle to Timothy, which was made the last, you could hear that he says for himself that he is the worst of all sinners.
He does not justify himself, and he could do that. We can see that he committed his former, really terrible sins with his best intention, in his eagerness, thinking that he was serving God. A sin committed out of ignorance is just a smaller sin, and it has always been punished more lightly; (4. Mos. 15, 30) for a conscientious and persistent sin, the punishment was more terrible. (2. Chron. 36, 15-16) He says, having in mind his own example, of course: “If we sin deliberately after receiving knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains sacrifice for sins but a fearful prospect of judgment and a flaming fire that is going to consume the adversaries.” (Heb. 10, 26-27)
When Paul calls himself the worst of all sinners, he takes his measure by his Christ. Savle saw God’s glory and in the light of that glory his darkness became even darker.
Nearer a man is to God, better he can see the depth of his sinfulness. A just man condemns himself most severely. The great saints and men of God, trembled with mortal fear in front of God’s greatness. A bigger sinner is a man, his sinfulness seems less and less to him, and becomes more acceptable every moment.
Savle, on his way to Damascus met Lord and in the glow of God’s presence he perceived himself in his complete human triviality. Therefore he does not deal with the question of sinfulness of people around him, neither in the past, not now in the Epistle to Timothy; he measured himself and perceived himself in his sinfulness. To a sinful man who is aware of how dangerous the sin can be – and who among men is the just one – it could not be a bit of consolation the fact that others are sinful too, perhaps even more sinful. If I am to be tortured in hell, God forbid, of what importance for me can be the fact that some other people will suffer the same torture.
The apostle Paul’s confession, who is one of the greatest among those chosen by God, should be the real motive to us to examine seriously our lives. At the first place, we must deal exclusively with our own sinfulness. We should let others think about themselves as they like it; let us analyze ourselves and not them. The man who deals just a bit seriously with himself will not have any time to deal with others.
But look, the apostle Paul encourages us to repent: “ No matter how big is your sinfulness, come to it, pull it out of you; feel repentant, bring the fruits of repenting; be afraid but do not despair; there is hope; God’s grace is immense. The Lord comes to the world to save the sinners.”
The Lord loves endlessly the sinners who have repented. Among his bodily relatives he had some really big sinners. He did not hesitate to call himself a Son of David, and do not you forget that it is the very same David who used the death of his kin to take his wife. But, it is the same David who moistened his bed with repenting tears. (Ps. 6, 6)
The Lord detests vain righteous men. If you are like that, “saint” and “purist”, you accomplish all your obligations “strictly” and “completely”, you do not need God or His grace. He does not come because of you.
We meet converted people, possessed by devil and deceived, who, in their vain righteousness, talk with the saints. Just imagine that: the saints appear in front of them and reveal heavenly secrets to them! They have coffee with saint Petka every day, and with Holy Mother occasionally. These are, my friends, represented in Pharisees, painted graves, “full with bones of dead people and all kinds of impurity” (Mt. 23, 27); the Lord was very angry at them, shouted at them and called them different names.Those who do not know and do not accept that they are lost, they are hopeless. When they condemned the Lord that He was friendly with sinners, and that He ate and drank with them, (Lk. 15,2) He answered to them that He had not come to call the righteous people but the sinners to repent. (Mt. 9, 13) “Healthy people do not need a doctor, but the sick do”, (Mt. 9, 12) He answered to them. When He was heading to His Resurrection, He took along one of really the biggest sinners: a repented outlaw from the cross.
God gave us plenty of examples of His mercy for our hope and encouragement. He talked about the lost sheep and about great joy when it was found. He narrated about the lost and later found drachma. He stated about the debauched son and father’s joy when he saw the son in front of his home. (Lk. 15. Chapter)
With his contemporary apostolic speech the apostle Paul transfers a message both to us who are able to find strength to oppose their own sinfulness, and to his disciple Timothy: If the Lord pardoned me, who used to be such a sinner, you are not to be worried. No matter how big your sins are, if you convert and repent, and sacrifice the repenting worthy fruits, you shall be saved and pardoned by God, too. I was –he tells us- “pardoned so that Jesus could use me as an example of His long-term endurance for those who shall believe in eternal life.” (1. Tim. 1, 16)