How Was Paul The Chief Of Sinners (1Tim 1:15)?
“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.” (1Tim 1:15)
In 1Timothy 1, Paul says that he is the chief of sinners, but in Philippians 3, Paul indicates that he was blameless concerning the righteous of the law.
“Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.” (Php 3:4-6)
How can both of these be true? Let us look at what the Bible says about Paul's life before his conversion. The scriptures show Paul at that time as a zealous persecutor of the church whose attacks are described as the persecution of Christ himself (Acts 9:4-5, 22:7-8, 26:14-15). Paul persecuted the saints "unto death," (Acts 22:4) and pursued them even unto "strange [i.e. foreign] cities" (Acts 26:11). Paul's hostility was so great that he is described as persecuting the church "beyond measure" (Gal 1:13) and destroying the faith (Gal 1:23). Despite has labour for Christ after his salvation, Paul says that he was not fit to be an apostle because of his persecution of the church.
“For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” (1Cor 15:9)
In short, prior to his conversion, Paul was a violent adversary to the church and the foremost persecutor of the church of God on the face of the earth. Thus, Paul was the chief of sinners not because of an immoral lifestyle of drunkenness and debauchery but because he was the chief (i.e. the leader) of man's opposition to the true church.
The key to understanding why Paul's crimes were so heinous is to understand God's solution for sin today is through the gospel of his son, which gospel is proclaimed by the saints.
“For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Rom 10:13-14)
The world has contracted the disease of sin, which is incurable except through believing the gospel of Christ. The act of killing and persecuting the messengers of Christ is the eradication of those who have been entrusted with the only cure to man's problems. Therefore, there is no greater evil than persecuting the church, and in comparison, a life of organized crime is less wicked.
Thus, we see that despite Paul's blamelessness under the law, he was the chief of sinners because he persecuted and laid waste the church of God. However, just as God extended grace to Paul, you also can be saved by trusting in the blood that Christ shed for you on the cross.
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