The Reading: 1 Timothy 1:12-18
“I formerly blasphemed and persecuted” (v.13) RSV
Paul referred to himself as “the chief of sinners” (v.16). The main reason he believed this was because of his past. Before his conversion to Jesus Christ he had been an ardent Pharisee and a persecutor of Christians. He had travelled up and down the country arresting believers, and in some cases had them stoned to death. Stephen, the first Christian martyr was stoned by those who laid their clothes at the feet of Paul (Saul in those days).
Paul was now mortified that he had persecuted the Church and had blasphemed against Jesus Christ. He was also now aware that all the things he thought had been good and what he had done to impress God were in fact worthless. He wrote: “All my righteous deeds are as filthy rags”. But he was not going to live the rest of his life flagellating himself for his sins. Jesus was indeed the Christ and the Saviour. It would be sacrilege to refuse the forgiveness so freely offered. If God had forgiven him, then he should forgive himself. Jesus had come to set him free, not to increase his guilt and failure.
Paul, as a Christian, was also aware that he was a sinner because he still continued to sin. He spoke of this constant struggle he had as he tried to overcome his ‘old nature’. He cried out, “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do” (Romans 7:19)” So Paul not only felt he had lost his early years by fruitlessly attacking Christians, but he had lost opportunities by his own weakness and failure to win over the “flesh”.
He was also tempted to be frustrated with his long periods of imprisonment. How he longed to be out preaching and reaching out to the corners of the known world. And yet his time was not lost. Whilst in prison others started to preach. While he had been around their gifts seemed to be not needed, but now they emerged and served Christ. And even more importantly, Paul wrote letters. It is these Epistles that have survived long after anything else he did. His letters were a direct result of being in prison.
Lord, even my religious zeal may have been misplaced and not done out of love. Put a right spirit within me. Amen.
1 What did Paul think of his previous ‘good’ and ‘holy’ life?
2 What was Paul’s attitude to his past?