Taking the Epistle

A biblical journey through the epistles

The chief of sinners receives mercy


The chief of sinners

This bible study is part of a series on the book of 1st Timothy, in order to see the full series please check out our “epistle” page or alternatively please check out our page dedicated to the book of 1st Timothy for other studies in this book. 

When I set this blog up my intention was to explore the epistles and do the occasional bible study based on what I had studied and learned, what you are reading below is notes I have made. I have to confess that this bible study is basic in its content and is not prepared by a pastor and I have to admit I have no theological training; my hope in prayer is that someone will be blessed by the notes below.

Let’s start in verse fifteen of the first chapter of First Timothy.

15 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. 16 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. 17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

Have you ever done a task in your home and involved your kids? If you have you will know that however small the task is, even if it is just cleaning or tidying up your kid’s room, involving the kids is as much for your benefit as it is theirs. Yes you are teaching them good behaviors; however it is the coolest thing to do is to spend time working alongside your kids, co-laboring to achieve a common goal. I was out in the front yard last week and I mowed the lawn, my kid came out advising that she was going to help me. So I gave her a rake (she is only 5) and I let her drag the rake behind me and she did well to the best of her abilities, she got tired very quickly and went back in and I finished the job myself, but for those few moment we worked together it was truly a blessing. Imagine that that is what God is like with his kids; he loves it when we work on his projects with him.

Paul goes on to call himself the chief of all sinners. He states that he has a faithful saying (used 5 times in the epistles) and goes on to explains the point of what they are doing there. They are to speak of the Messiah and the reason for his coming “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” and that was the basis of Paul’s ministry.

Basis of every Christian’s ministry

To be fair it should be the basis of every Christian’s ministry, to present the gospel of Jesus Christ and explain why Jesus came and the purpose of his mission here on earth. Paul then goes on to call himself the chief of all sinners, this throws me as Paul is such an example to me in my Christian walk and if I could use one as an example then it would be Paul. (Obviously behind Jesus) what humility the apostle has!

We can’t forget what the purpose of Christ’s mission was to save a sinner that is us! Regardless of how holy you think you are, how many years since your conversion you are in the most basic of terms a “sinner” it is the one thing we have in common, where we get a superiority complex is the types of sins we commit. Some of us fall more regularly than others and some fall in different areas to others, but in the truest sense of the world, we were all born with a sinful nature and Christ came to save us all.

Recognize the need for a Savior

We have to recognize the sin in order to see the need for a Savior. I have listened to messages on different websites from preachers who barely touch on, or never mention sin. We have to realize that there is something wrong (sin) that there is a separation from God and the need for a Messiah (Jesus). Otherwise we are just doing a bunch of holy rules for no decent reason.

Paul goes on goes on to say “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.” Paul never regarded himself and reveals the true heart of his writings. Paul isn’t being all “false modesty” here; Paul saw his sins for what they were and how they removed him from God.

This is just my opinion but reading between the lines I see a sense of guilt by Paul of his former life as Saul of Tarsus, the persecution, the deaths, the fear he drove into those he now called brothers in the faith. He saw his sins, the ones causing suffering, death and the ones involving religious persecution as what elevated him to a “chief of sinners” status.

Confirmation in Acts 26

Acts 26 confirms this when Paul is relaying his history to Agrippa…

Acts 26:9 (ESV) “I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. 11 And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities.

Paul is remembering his actions, not just the torture but making his new brothers in the faith to be under such weight of stress to blaspheme what they believed in order for this horror to stop! I bet that was playing on Paul’s mind, the sights, the sounds and even the smells that would bring his mind back to what he had seen, what he had done and what he had supervised in his zealousness to break this new faith.

Mentally that has to be tough; I know that had that been me I would have a mass weight of guilt surrounding me. I would state that he had shadows and memories much in the same way that a war veteran has. His thoughts and guilt about his prior actions make him ponder whether any sinner could have sinned too great for God to redeem him. Paul makes this clear when he talks of “obtained mercy”.

V16 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.

The picture that Paul paints of himself does make one ponder if there is a sin so great that God cannot absolve? Paul is grateful here for the mercy received and shows that your sins, whether they be few of many can be forgiven by a loving God who does not desire that any should perish.

Perfect patience

Paul credits Jesus Christ with showing his “perfect patience” he shows to be that he realizes that God could have wiped him out at any point! (We serve a big God who made all that we see in six days, nuking a troublesome Pharisee would not be a nano-second on his calendar!) But God had a plan for his life, he was going to become the person he hated a short time ago, his zeal for the Law would become a zeal for the Christ.

He would be an example! He would shine as an example to what Jesus preached throughout his ministry “I desire mercy over judgment” Paul would become an example that no one is beyond redemption.

V17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

Imagine the rejoicing! Paul knew who he was and what he did. He also knew how great the fathers love for us, how far reaching that Salvation was that it had found him on a lonely dusty road on the way to Damascus – is it any wonder he bursts into praise? He who has been forgiven much remembers much!

Paul’s hymn of praise

Paul lists the attributes of his praise to God here:

King of the Ages
The only God
The one worthy of glory and honor forever

Which brings me to my last point, how is your praise life? Do we burst with praise because we know who we are and what we have been forgiven from? We could learn a lot from the gratitude and thankfulness of Paul’s heart.

It is not as if Paul had it easy! Paul had a hard mission life and he never threw in the towel. He was persecuted, chased from cities, had many nautical disasters but through it all he realized that he was simply a messenger of God’s word and was available to be used by God. What a wonderful example of pure praise to our Father God. It is not about the words we use but how plugged in our heart is.

Thank you again for finding this article and I pray these bible studies are a blessing. Please feel free to comment, like or share as the LORD leads you to.

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