Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:15-16)
Many years ago, church revival meetings were held everywhere for the purpose of bringing people to Jesus. By the time I entered the ministry, around 35 years ago, revivals were more about trying to revive believers with special nights such as “fill-a-pew” and “pot-luck supper” night. A few people would wait until revival time to confess Jesus and be baptized, but for the most part, people no longer fashioned revival meetings to reach the irreligious and lost.
But there was a time when it was not this way. There was a time when the only reason churches had revivals was to bring people to Jesus. In fact, they were more often called “evangelistic meetings.” An old preacher once told me when a traveling evangelist came into town for a meeting, he would find out the name of the biggest sinner in town and try to convert him. The evangelist felt if he was successful in winning the biggest sinner, the others would follow.
It is a little amusing to think of “biggest” and “smaller” sinners, especially since the penalty for one sin is the same as the one for many. But I think we know what those evangelists were looking for, and what Paul meant when he said he was the “worst of sinners.”
In every society there are people who seem beyond salvation. They are the drug dealers, prostitutes, murderers, drunks, corporate raiders and scam artists. Their habits seem so ingrained it is difficult to believe they can really change. Even if they do accept Jesus, the authenticity of their decision has to be called into question…so we think. These are the kinds of people the old evangelists would look for, and reach out to.
While I am not sure finding the biggest sinner in a community and reaching him for Jesus so others will follow is the purest form of evangelism, I have to admit that is kind of what Paul is saying in this morning’s passage. If God could save Paul, and be patient with him, then others might be drawn to salvation.
In fact, I will go beyond “kind of.” That is exactly what Paul is saying. When the worst sinner is saved, it has an impact on others. This is why celebrities who are known for their sinful lifestyles have such a powerful testimony when they give their lives to Jesus.
But I have a question? Was Paul the “worst of sinners” or was this how he saw himself? I don’t remember anyone else, including the Lord, using the label. What about Judas, Pilate, or the people who stoned Stephen in the middle of the street while he looked into the heavens and asked God to forgive his killers?
Oh well. He was bad enough to be sure. There is no telling how many Christians he had taken from their families and imprisoned or killed. And he stood by that day they stoned Stephen and did nothing, even as the killers laid their garments at his feet.
Paul probably is the poster child for the statement, “If God can save Him, he can save anyone.” I get it.
Dear God, thank You for showing me the extent of Your love. In Jesus’ name, Amen.