May 24 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 1 Timothy 1:15 ESV
Foremost – Where are you in the rank order of sinners? Paul says that he is at the top of the list (so that place is taken). But I wonder if we who endorse the “grace” mentality of the Christian message aren’t a bit too quick to dismiss Paul’s ranking as so much hyperbole used to impress Timothy with the bigger message. We are so convinced that God forgives everything that we have the tendency to ignore our own failures. If Paul, who is so cognizant of his own mistakes, ranks himself as the foremost of sinners because he is acutely aware of the magnitude of forgiveness, perhaps we, who pretend that under grace our rebellion no longer matters, need to open up a super-category of sinners. If Paul puts himself at the top of the “aware and repentant” list, maybe I need to be at the very top of the “pretend it doesn’t matter but know better” list. The daily injections of “grace” anesthetic aren’t really helping to ease the pain in my soul. Maybe that’s why I have so much trouble looking into those eyes in the mirror.
Paul uses that great Greek word protos. It means “first,” of course, but perhaps this is one time when the English derivatives help us drive the point home. This Greek word reminds me that when I disobey I become like a proto-human. I am not yet what God intended. I am less than the full image. My choices make me something else.
It also helps me understand the protocol that governs my life. What system of rules governs my behavior? If it isn’t God’s original and official procedures, then what makes me think He will overlook my arrogant denial of His Lordship?
I think of proton, the stable sub-atomic particle that occurs in all atoms. The core of the atomic nucleus. The center of being. I wonder if God is at the core of my existence when I act in ways that ignore His directions. I wonder if the “God particle” makes any difference to me when I convince myself that His grace overrides my selfishness.
And finally I think of prototype. Who is my prototype? Is it Yeshua whose flawless obedience came through suffering? Am I fashioning my life around His form? Or have I convinced myself that an occasional moral vacation is the reward for spiritual discipline?
Perhaps Paul needs to make room for another at the top of the pile: one equally deserving of anything but grace.
Topical Index: protos, first, foremost, sinner, 1 Timothy 1:15