A Year of Full Acceptance (I Timothy 1:15)
Topic: I Timothy Passage: 1 Timothy 1:15
A Year of Full Acceptance
I Timothy 1:15
(One Lord: What is Man?)
January 1st, 2017
I. Your Top Five
Okay. If you had to make a list of the top five worst sinners in history, who would make the cut?
Would you include the murderous dictators of the 20th century, men like Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Pol Pot? Maybe you would include history's most famous serial killers, people like Ted Bundy or Jack the Ripper.
Or maybe you would include someone you know or knew firsthand, maybe an abuser whose cruelty you personally experienced, or that someone close to you experienced.
Maybe, just maybe, you would dig into God's word and hold up a biblical villain, maybe someone like Judas.
Well, this morning, we are going to see that turning to God's word to fill in your 'top five' is a good strategy. Why? Because the Apostle Paul himself, in I Timothy 1:15, is going to argue that he should definitely be included on your list.
Really...Paul? I can imagine plenty of people including Paul on a list of the top five saints, but not sinners. Let's look at God's word together this morning and see what Paul actually said.
II. The Passage: "To Save Sinners" (1:15)
We heard this verse at the outset of our time this morning, but listen to it one more time. This is I Timothy 1:15. Paul tells Timothy, his younger co-laborer in the gospel...
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am foremost.
Though it is only one verse, I would argue this one verse is bursting at the seams in terms of significance and impact. It's a verse that God wants to use in my life and in your life this morning. As we think about what God is saying to us through this verse, let's make sure we understand the verse in its context.
Let's break I Timothy 1:15 into three parts. If you look back at the verse, you'll see the first part of it is referring to what we might call “so great a saying”, while the next part points to “so great a salvation”. The final part is where we hear about “so great a sinner”. Let's look carefully at each of these parts. Are you ready?
1. So Great a Saying (v. 15a)
Listen again to those opening words: The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance.
Why do you think Paul began his statement that way? It seems pretty clear that Paul wanted to stress the fact that what he was about to say was not mere speculation or some flimsy opinion. By beginning the statement in this way, Paul is emphasizing how crucial, how foundational, how firm, how central this saying was.
The saying is trustworthy because it is rooted in what really happened, in the testimony of faithful witnesses, in the transformative experiences of countless people, and above all, it is rooted in the faithfulness, promises, and power of God himself. There is no better 'certificate of authenticity' than that.
This is why it is “deserving of full acceptance”. Remember, as we learn from 1:3-7, there were so-called teachers at Ephesus who were teaching “different doctrine”, who were “devot[ing] themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations”, “certain persons” who had “wandered away into vain discussion”. As Paul describes them in verse 7, they are “without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.”
In stark contrast, Paul was encouraging Timothy in what was “trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance”; a testimony that spoke of...
2. So Great a Salvation (v. 15b)
What was the trustworthy saying Paul wanted to drive home to Timothy? It's right there in the second part of verse 15: that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. He didn't come into the world to condemn the world, or give us a boost, or simply to do miracles like healing the sick. He came into the world to save sinners.
What a wonderful Christmas verse! This is why Jesus came. This why Jesus was born.
This short phrase is one of the simplest affirmations of the gospel in all Scripture. It's what Paul calls “the gospel of the glory of the blessed God” in verse 11. And in the very next chapter, Paul expands on this testimony...
For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,  who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. (I Timothy 2:5-6)
This is how Jesus saves sinners, by giving up His own life, to pay a ransom and buy us for God. And Paul has personally experienced this ransom, this redemption, this rescue. In chapter 1, verses 13 and 16, he writes about having “received mercy”. He speaks in such beautiful terms in verse 14 when he writes how “the grace of our Lord overflowed for me”.
While self-proclaimed 'teachers' in the church were focused on “different doctrine”, and “myths and endless genealogies”, while they accepted and reveled in “speculations” and “vain discussion”, Paul wants to bring Timothy back to what must remain central at all times.
...Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.
While Paul still has the false teachers in mind here, the very ones he has charged Timothy to confront, according to verse 3, we know Paul is also focused on...
3. So Great a Sinner (v. 15c)
Listen to the whole verse one more time: 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.
There it is. If Paul were to make a list of the top five worst sinners in history, he would include himself on that list. In fact, as he states here, he would place himself at the top of the list. Paul said, “of all the sinners that Jesus came into the world to save, I am protos...I am first, I am in first place; I am chief, at the top. I am number one.”
Now why in the world would someone like Paul talk about himself like this? Well look at what he already said before this about his scandalous past. Verse 13...formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent (arrogantly lacking respect) opponent.
Paul was painfully aware of his former life as Saul of Tarsus, persecutor of the church, hater of Christians, enemy of Christ's work on earth; and as he would come to understand, a blasphemer against the truth. If Jesus came into the world to save sinners, Saul worked hard to turn them from Jesus and keep them in slavery to the law and human traditions.
In light of his unabashed and direct, explicit opposition to the gospel, Paul believes he truly is number one on the list of sinners in desperate need of salvation. But was he? Really? Would Paul really be number one? What about Judas? What about the Jewish leaders who had Christ killed? And is that even how things work in terms of judgment? Is there really a ranking of sinners, from “worst” to “mildly bad”?
I don't think so. So why might Paul say he is the number one sinner? Well, if we look at the context here, Paul has just made this statement:
Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully,  understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers,  the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine,  in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted. (I Timothy 1:8-11)
Paul does not want Timothy, or anyone else, to hear a tone of pride or moral superiority in his voice here. And so after writing these words, he is quick to talk about the fact that he himself is just as desperately needy as the “disbodient”, “ungodly”, and “sinners” he just described.
And so instead of making a statement about an actual, divine ranking of all sinners, Paul is expressing his deep awareness of and sorrow over the ugliness and darkness and destructiveness and foolishness and utter sinfulness of his own sin. Only he and God know the depths of his dark heart. And so, his honest and painful assessment of his own rebellious and desperate condition leads him to such an acute feeling and an inescapable conclusion: of whom I am [number one...foremost].
III. Acceptance Goes Both Ways
As we stop and think about what Paul is saying, as we think about what God is saying to us this morning through Paul, we can't miss the very next verse, verse 16...
But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost [as 'number one'], Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. (1:16)
From this painfully acute sense of his own ugly and destructive past, God has brought Paul to a redemptive perspective. Paul says, “If God could save someone like me...LIKE ME...(and He did!) such perfect patience, such overflowing grace, must be available to all people. And...IT IS! ...Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners!
Are you one of those Paul spoke of, on of those who has believed in him for eternal life? If you are, did you know you are accepted by God? He accepts you now, as His own child, because of what the Son did. He accepts you as you are, in spite of what you've done, because of who Jesus is, in light of what He did. And through Jesus, God's acceptance is unconditional. Nothing can or will cause God to reject you. You are fully and forever accepted by God through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Isn't that what it means that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners?
But as we've already heard from Paul, acceptance goes both ways. God has fully accepted you through Jesus. But at the same time, this truth is deserving of full acceptance, right?
Now think about this for a minute. Today is the very first day of 2017; the very first day of a brand new year. Could there be any better goal, any better resolution, any greater ambition, any better pursuit to which you could recommit yourself than this “full acceptance”? A year of “full acceptance”, just as you are fully accepted.
Now, I get that many of us have no problem with fully accepting this saying in a conceptual/doctrinal kind of way. But I think the word “full” and the context here confirm that Paul has much more in mind here than just theological accuracy or doctrinal discernment.
When Paul deems the statement, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”, as a saying “deserving of full acceptance”, he does so as one who has fully accepted it himself. How do we know? His acceptance is evident from the highly personal way in which the truth of the saying has impacted his life.
What does that mean for us? It means if 2017 is to be a year of “full acceptance”, the truth of why Jesus came must impact our lives in a highly personal way.
If Paul is our example, then we see here two clear ways in which that happens: the first is centered on the word “sinner”, and the second is centered on the word “save”.
The fact that Christ came into the world to save SINNERS immediately drove Paul to remember, to a recognition of, how dark, deceived, destructive, and deadly his condition was apart from God's grace. If this year is to be a year of “full acceptance”, it will mean a deepening sensitivity to our condition as sinners.
Not only will we grow to become more like Paul in facing our own sinfulness, but in light of our condition, we will also have a deepening sense of our desperate need for rescue.
As we said about Paul, in 2017 will you be able to express a deep or deeper awareness of and sorrow over the ugliness and darkness and destructiveness and foolishness and utter sinfulness of your own sin...since only you and God know the depths of your dark heart? And will an honest and painful assessment of your own rebellious and desperate condition leads you to an acute feeling and the inescapable conclusion: of whom I...I am foremost...I am [number one]?
But at the same time, fully accepting this gospel saying will mean fully embracing the word SAVE...Christ Jesus came into the world to SAVE sinners.
I believe fully accepting the reality of Jesus as Savior can express itself in a number of ways. First of all, it means thinking carefully about how you've “received mercy” and how God's grace “overflowed” for you. How often do you stop and think about that. No, seriously. If you can accept the depths of your own darkness, then you will be able to see, even more clearly, the brilliance of God's light of grace. And when you do that, it leads to humility, thankfulness, and praise. Wouldn't 2017 be a better year if it were filled with more of that?
But I think “full acceptance” also means reaching out for our Savior even more. In I Corinthians 15:2 (one of our memory verses), Paul tells us the gospel is the Good News “by which you are BEING saved”. Yes, our Savior is our Redeemer who purchased us for God by His death. But He is also the Good Shepherd, who carries us all the way home. He will bring us through to the end, just as He promised. No one will snatch us out of His hand.
I find it's easier to look to Jesus as a King from history or a High Priest in heaven. What's harder is daily reaching out to Him as a close and present Savior. But I think that's part of what “full acceptance” of this truth looks like.
In light of the depths of this statement, could there be a better verse than this for 2017? If you were to memorize only one of our forty-eight memory verses, this would be a fantastic one to hide in your heart, to preach to yourself each day, and to meditate on in the New Year.
Would you this morning, commit to doing that very thing? Even more importantly, would you pray and ask God to help you “fully accept” this precious truth...that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost?
Let's ask Him right now to help us do that very thing. Let's pray. (As Paul finished his paragraph: To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (1:17))