A Trustworthy Sa

“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst” (1 Timothy 1vs15)

These words of Paul’s are the first in a series of five so called ‘trustworthy sayings’ which are found in Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus (see also 1 Timothy 3vs1, 4vs9, 2 Timothy 2vs11, Titus 3vs8). Each of these ‘sayings’ is trustworthy, that is true and worth believing. And each of them deserves ‘full acceptance’, that is, they should be accepted as true and acted upon not just by some people but by everyone. What are the key truths that all people should believe and act upon according to 1 Timothy 1vs15?

First, there is a key truth about our world and about ourselves. According to Paul, the world in which we live is a fallen world and we are a fallen people. The word that Paul actually uses to describe this state of affairs is the word ‘sin’ – a word that has a variety of meanings in the Bible, depending on the context in which it is used.  Here in 1 Timothy 1vs15, the word refers to Paul himself as the most extreme example of a sinner (“the worst of sinners”). Thus to be a sinner is to be what Paul himself was, and in verse 13, he tells us that he was a blasphemer, a persecutor and an unbeliever, not with regard to God, but with regard to Jesus Christ. According to these verses then, sin is the refusal to accept that Jesus is indeed God, to stand opposed to Jesus and to refuse to trust in Jesus as Saviour and Lord. Paul might have been an extreme example of this, but the sad fact is that every person is by nature exactly the same. By nature we are all ‘sinners’ who stand opposed to Jesus.

Second, there is a key truth about Jesus. Paul tells us that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”. We are accustomed to the truth that God so loved the world that He sent His Son into the world (see John 3vs16). But is this verse, Paul tells us that Jesus Himself loved the world enough to “come into the world” to save sinners. The message of Christmas is thus a message both about the love of God the Father and the self-giving love of Jesus the Son. This is further emphasised in verse 14 where Paul speaks about the “grace of our Lord” which was poured out on him abundantly, meaning not the grace of God the Father (though He is full of grace), but the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Third, there is a key truth about Jesus’ mission. Paul tells us that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”. Over the centuries, people have always tried to redefine the mission and purpose of Jesus according to their own agenda. Jesus has been presented as an insightful prophet, a social reformer, a political liberator, a moral example and a wise teacher to mention just a few. But by His own definition Jesus was and is supremely a Saviour, not of the self-righteous but of sinners. This is of course abundantly clear from the Gospels where Jesus says of Himself that he came “not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” and to “to seek and to save the lost” (see Luke 5vs32, 19vs10). In 1 Timothy 1vs15, Paul echoes Jesus’ own teaching when he says that Jesus came to save sinners. Later on in the letter, again echoing Jesus’ teaching, Paul reminds his readers that Jesus saves sinners on the basis of what He has done for them when he “gave himself as a ransom for all men” by dying on the cross (1 Timothy 2vs6). Sinners are thus not saved by changing themselves into better people. They are saved by being ransomed by the death of Jesus. That is why the right response to Jesus is not a decision to imitate His life or to follow His teaching, but rather to trust in His saving work and to depend on Him for our salvation.

According to 1 Timothy 1vs15, it is a trustworthy saying that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”. This saying is true and it should be believed and acted upon by everyone. Put in slightly different terms, Paul is thus reminding us that the message of Christmas is a message about Jesus and a message about ourselves. It is also a message for the world! Christmas should remind us that we are sinners – and it is worth accepting that diagnosis of ourselves no matter how uncomfortable it makes us feel. But Christmas also reminds us that Jesus is a gracious, powerful and willing saviour. He came into the world with the ability and the deep desire to save us. And save us He will if we are willing to face the truth about our sinfulness and to put or trust in Him.

Written by Mervyn Eloff