September 9, 2022 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – 1 Timothy 1:12-17 (NRSV)
I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. 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 sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost. But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come 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.
No matter how exemplary our mentors were and how well and deeply they followed Christ, they still, as my grandma used to say, put their pants on one leg at a time just like everyone else, spiritually speaking. They were still saved by the grace of Christ, just as we are.
Do you have Bible verses that drift around in your head from your childhood? If you did not grow up in the church, you may not. In my case, though, my grandfather and my father were Methodist preachers, and I can hear 1 Timothy 1:15 in my head in my grandfather’s voice (in the KJV): “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.”
My grandfather had a great love for the pastoral epistles, as 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus are called. His first book was titled A Workman Not to Be Ashamed, after 2 Timothy 2:15 (which we’ll get to next month in the lectionary), and he also loved to quote 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (which we’ll also get to next month in the lectionary.)
This is a funny thing for me to remember my grandfather quoting, though, since he was a deeply committed Christian with a highly respectable position as a seminary president. He studied the Bible frequently, prayed often, mentored young preachers, wrote books and devotional curricula, had a loving family life, and was from my perspective the best grandfather ever. How could he be the chief of sinners?
I wonder sometimes if Timothy had the same reaction when Paul wrote this to him. When he first met Paul, the apostle was already a respected leader in the early Christian movement, traveling and composing letters to young churches. Later, Timothy would travel with Paul to spread the gospel, and he would eventually be commissioned by Paul to check up on new churches on his own and to take charge of the church at Ephesus.
Timothy and Paul co-authored 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, and Philemon—Mark Roberts has been making very clear in his recent series on 1 Thessalonians that Timothy was part of what is essentially a “letter by committee.” They were close and dear friends, but the age difference would have made Timothy an aspiring disciple to Paul’s elder statesman. He would never have known Paul as Saul, persecutor of the church. How could Paul be the chief of sinners?
When I wrote about Hebrews 11 and 12 a few weeks ago, I spoke of how we honor the saints that have gone before, those who have mentored us and shown us exemplary Christian lives. Without negating a single thing I said there, I think this passage turns the narrative of the great saints around and looks at it through the opposite lens.
No matter how exemplary our mentors were and how well and deeply they followed Christ, they still, as my grandma used to say, put their pants on one leg at a time just like everyone else, spiritually speaking. They were still saved by the grace of Christ, just as we are. They still depended on the mercy of Christ daily, as do we. Christ’s love extended to them as they grew in grace, wherever they may have started out. And that grace and love and mercy are for all, and forever.
To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen, indeed.
Where have you sinned?
Where has Christ shown you mercy?
The song “Bearers of the Light” by Michael Card is a wonderful picture of the relationship between Paul, Timothy, and Barnabas as they spread the Gospel. (Lyrics, unfortunately, are very difficult to find on the Internet, but Card sings clearly.) Listen and think of those saints you bless God for—and then bless the name of the God who has blessed them.
Lord, I am the chief of sinners, but you came into the world to save sinners. Save me. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Connecting Belief and Behavior at Work (1 Timothy 1:1–11, 18–20; 3:14–16)
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Jennifer Woodruff Tait (PhD, Duke University) is the editor of and frequent contributor to Life for Leaders. She is also the managing editor of Christian History magazine and web editor for the Theology of Work Project, and a priest in the Episcopal Church. She has written a book of poetry, Histories of Us. Jennifer lives in Berea, Kentucky, with her husband, Edwin, and their two daughters.
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