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

Was Jesus a Friend of Sinners?

DAILY DEVOTIONAL: DAY 204

“The Son of man is come eating and drinking; and ye say, Behold a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners” (Luke 7:34, KJV).

Was Jesus a friend of sinners? The answer is, “No.” We shall soon find out why. Let’s start by examining the context of today’s Bible passage. Here, Jesus is expressing His displeasure at the attitude of people toward Him. John the Baptist came to prepare the way for Jesus. He led a relatively austere life, neither eating bread nor drinking wine (cf. Luke 1:13-15). His food was locusts and wild honey (cf. Matthew 3:4). Yet, people found fault with him and said he had a devil (cf. Luke 7:33). Jesus, by contrast, ate freely and did not abstain from wine. In general, He was less strict with Himself compared to John the Baptist. Surprisingly, people found fault with Jesus, too. They accused Him of being a glutton, a drunkard and a friend of sinners. Here is where some people get confused and conclude – wrongly – that Jesus was a friend of sinners.

Let’s keep in mind that the tag, “friend of sinners,” was just an accusation. The question we must ask is, “Was the accusation true or was it false?” Was Jesus a “friend of sinners?” To answer this question, let’s look again at today’s opening Scripture. Jesus was accused of being three things: glutton (He overeats), drunkard (he drinks in excess), and a friend of sinners (He hangs out with sinful people).

Let’s start with the first accusation.

Was Jesus a glutton? No, He was not. Gluttony is over-indulging in food, which is a form of greed and lack of self-control. The Bible expressly says Jesus was without sin (cf. Hebrews 4:15). If Jesus was a glutton, then He was a sinner; but the Word of God cannot lie. Second, was Jesus a drunkard? No, He was not – for the same reasons noted above regarding gluttony.

Now, to the third accusation:

Was Jesus a friend of sinners? Again, noHe was not. Here’s why. If you are a friend of sinners, it means you share (directly or indirectly) in their sinful life (which is what the accusation against Jesus implied). We are using the word “friend” in the strict sense (i.e. those you share your life with based on mutual love, respect and common interests), not in the loose sense where you might casually say to someone, “Hey, friend!” or “My friend!” (see, for example, Matthew 22:11-12).

The truth is, Jesus was no friend of sinners. He did, however, welcome all who wanted to hear Him: men and women, young and old, rich and poor, godly and ungodly, Jews and Gentiles. He went to their homes if He was invited; there, He often took the opportunity to proclaim the truth of salvation. Some sinners who listened to Jesus eventually received His message, repented and became His disciples. In short, Jesus was compassionate, loving and merciful toward all people, but He was not a friend of sinners.

The only group of people Jesus called His “friends” were His disciples (cf. John 15:15). In the previous verse (John 15:14), Jesus declared: “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.” Notice the condition a person must fulfill to become Jesus’ friend: if you do whatsoever Jesus commands you. Do sinners do whatsoever Jesus commands them? No, they don’t. Conclusion: Sinners are not friends of Jesus; and Jesus is not their friend, either. 

Let us, therefore, present Jesus accurately to people, because friendship with Jesus (or lack thereof) is a matter of heaven or hell.

May the Lord bless you, give you understanding and enable you to walk with Him in holiness and righteousness. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

For further study: Psalm 15:1-5

Love Drove Jesus to the Cross

Daily Devotional: Day 98

“For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:7-8, NKJV).

Take a careful look at today’s Scripture reading. What you see is a succinct description of God’s love for you. The Bible says that even in normal life, it is rare for one to die for a righteous man; though perhaps for a good man, someone might consider dying for him.

The Bible is clear that Jesus died for a class of people called ‘sinners.’ Bear in mind that Jesus was sinless and spotless. He overcame every temptation and fulfilled God’s Law to the fullest. But, why would a sinless, innocent Man die for a sinner? After all, it is only fair that sinners should pay for their own sins. Well, the answer to that question is found in the famous four-letter word: love.

 The Bible says, God shows His love for us, in that while we were still sinners – not while we were good people – Christ died for us. If Christ had died for good people, you might say that His death makes sense. But what is the sense in the Innocent Son of God dying for sinners, most of whom are wicked and ungrateful? Why? Why would this Man die for people who didn’t deserve His love? Again, the answer is: God so loved us that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (cf. John 3:16).

Jesus’ love for you drove Him to death. Jesus went to the Cross and shed His blood, because He believed, and still believes, that you are worth saving. See how He loves you. My question for you today is: Is this Man worth your love, your time, your devotion and your worship? I hope you said a big “Yes!!!”

Prayer:

My Father in heaven, your love for me is beyond my imagination. I know that it was this love that drove you to send your Innocent Son to die for me. Lord, I can’t thank you enough. Accept the humble sacrifice of my lifelong devotion to you. In the Name of Jesus. Amen. 

For further study: John 10:1-30