Paul: The Chief of Sinners? (Pt 1)

Daily Devotion | Day 345

“This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (1 Timothy 1:15, NKJV).

The writings of Paul have been a stumbling block to many since the early years of Christianity. Different churches have created different doctrines based on what Paul supposedly said (or did not say). In the name of Paul a lot of good has been done in the Church; but a lot of harm has been done as well. Some of the hotly contested issues which bear Paul’s name include (but are not limited to) original sin, grace and the law, the role of faith and works in salvation, justification, speaking in tongues, slavery, predestination and free will, once-saved-always-saved, celibacy and the role of women in the Church.

Even Peter acknowledged controversies surrounding Paul’s writings. The problem was not with Paul or what he wrote. The problem was with those who read and interpreted his writings. Let’s listen to what Peter said: “and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation – as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understandwhich untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:15-16). Peter was familiar with Paul’s writings. He knew they were inspired by the Holy Spirit. That is why he had no problem comparing those writings with “the rest of the Scriptures.” Peter knew also that there were things in Paul’s writings that were hard to understand.

Peter didn’t say those things in Paul’s writings were impossible to understand, were not true or that they did not come from God. Paul is not the only one in the Bible (or for that matter the only writer in human civilization) whose writings contain things that are hard to understand. For example, there are people who find certain scientific concepts hard to understand, but this does not make those concepts insignificant or untrue. It does mean, however, that such things require extra diligence, patience, careful study and prayer to ascertain what is being communicated. Peter tells us that even in his time there were people who twisted Paul’s words to their own destruction. Not only that, they twisted the other Scriptures too. He describes these people as “untaught” and “unstable.” This reminds us that the phenomenon of twisting Scriptures is as old as the Scriptures themselves.

What we’re dealing with today is not new. As the Bible acknowledges, “That which has been is what will be, that which is done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Through Scripture twisting people have found a justification for all manner of dangerous doctrines and evil practices within and outside our churches. Scripture twisting has ruined individuals, families, churches and societies.

In our current series, our goal is not to tackle every word of Paul that has generated misunderstanding. We will focus on only one example: Some believe that even after you become a Christian, you still are a sinner. Your ‘sin nature’ stays with you. People would quote Paul to justify this understanding. They use this to further explain why Christians continue to sin. One of the common passages cited in support of this view is where Paul stated, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (1 Timothy 1:15). But did Paul say that at the time he was writing this, he was still a sinner, and the chief of sinners at that? We will address this and other related questions in the coming days, God willing.

Until then, renew yourself studying the Scriptures. Amen.

For further studyMark 12:18-27 and 2 Peter 3:1-18

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Motivationa speaker and spiritual teacher.

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