“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am foremost. But I have received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.” – I Timothy 1:15-16 (ESV)
These two verses have great meaning for me. I feel deeply when Paul says that he is foremost among sinners. Another translation says “chief of sinners.” I have felt that way. That feeling creeps up often, especially after sinning. But there is hope in those verses. The chief sinner, the Christian killer was a recepient of mercy for God’s purposes…that Paul might be a vessel for mercy and example of Jesus’ long-suffering patience. If Paul, chief sinner, can be saved and not only saved, but used to bring Gospel to billions upon billions; there is hope for me. I am a woefully unclean man. I seek to serve the Awesomely pure God. I have no hope, except that God might find mercy and bestow it upon me so that He might use me to impact others for Christ. Perhaps just one…perhaps I will impact more, but the point is that my salvation, my gift of mercy is for the benefit of another. I am to be an example, I am to be an example that no one is beyond the reach of God. He saves whom He saves, and no one is beyond His grasp.
Mixed in the message of great hope is a subtle, yet all-encompassing truth. While I still wrestle with the “hows” of election, I can say that I firmly do not doubt its truth and power. I believe the verse also teach that God elects or choses those who will believe. he enables the heart of man to know Him and to know Him is to choose Him. The Father is irresistible. His beauty is immutable. His presence is insatiably satisfying. Let’s look at the last part of the txt. Paul says he has been raised up as an example to those who were to believe in Jesus for eternal life. The structure of this sentence gives rise to the fact that in Paul’s mind, God has chosen those who will believe, just like Paul was chosen to believe. If God, through Paul, wanted to convey a different message, the text would be worded differently. IF the message is one of free will, the text would read, “Christ might display his perfect patience as an example so that some would believe in him for eternal life.” That rendering of the sentence conveys an entirely different message. Paul becomes an example to all and God is then hoping that some might believe because of Paul’s example of Christ’s patience. The Holy Spirit did not inspire Paul to write that way. He inspired a text that teaches election. Paul was to be displayed as an example to those who were to be saved. Paul’s example was for those who were to be saved…there was no choice. “Those” were going to believe in Jesus for eternal life. There is no qualifier. No ifs, ands or buts. “Those” would believe because of the mercy shown Paul by the Father through Jesus Christ.