Also available as MP3: A Faithful Saying – 1 Timothy 1:15-16
The word “faithful” (v.15) in this context means depend-able, as it does in I Corinthians 1:9. You can depend on God to do what He says, and sinners can depend on the fact that Christ came into the world to save them. This was the Lord’s message even when He was here on earth ministering to the Jews (Mt.9:13; Mt.15:24)
If you’re not a sinner, you’re in trouble, for this means Christ didn’t come to save you. But you are one (Rom.3: 23). If you’re willing to admit this, but think that overall you’re pretty godly, even if that’s true you’re still in trouble, for “Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom.5:6). If you’re willing to admit you’re ungodly but still think you’re on pretty good terms with God, you’re still in trouble, for you can’t be reconciled to God by His Son’s death unless you are willing to admit you’re an enemy of God’s (Rom.5:10).
Of course, before Paul was made an apostle, it was only known that Christ came to save Jewish sinners (Mt.1:21).
What’s Paul mean that this saying is “worthy of all acceptation” (ITim.1:15)? Well, when he later said masters were “worthy of all honour” (6:1), he meant they were worthy of all the honor a servant could give. In the same way, this saying is worthy of all the acceptance a sinner can give it, for every part is true. The Jews in Paul’s day denied Christ came into the world (IJo.4:1-3) as Jews still do. In addition, some Gentiles deny He came into the world, saying He never existed, that Bible stories about Him are legends and myths. Others believe He came, but that He didn’t come to save us, He came to teach us or be our example.
But here we must add He came to save sinners by dying for them, as seen by the myrrh the kings gave Him when He came into the world (Mt.2:11). There are two kinds of myrrh in the Bible, but the only other time this Greek word for myrrh is used is John 19:39 where it was used for embalming. He was a prophet who was born to die! (Acts 7:52)
Before he was saved, Paul was a pretty moral man (Phil.3:6) so why would he call himself “the chief of sinners” (v.15)? He certainly felt like the worst sinner (ICor.15:9 cf. Eph.3:8), but even when he was killing God’s people he was doing it “ignorantly” (v.13). No, the word “chief” means most prominent, as when the Bible speaks of “chief priests” and “chief rulers” and “chief singers.” The word also has the idea of leadership. The chief man on the island where Paul was shipwrecked (Acts 28:7) was probably the leader of those natives, and Satan was certainly the leader of all devils (Lu.11:15). Thus as the leader of the world’s rebellion against God, Saul was certainly the most prominent sinner.
So why’d God save him? To show His longsuffering in him (v.16). Notice he didn’t say he “was” the chief of sinners, he was still the most prominent sinner in the world, albeit now saved by grace. But as the most prominent sinner saved by grace he was an example of God’s longsuffering.
But if Saul began persecuting in Acts 7 and got saved shortly after in Acts 9, how did he show God’s longsuffering? Ah, God showed His longsuffering with mankind in saving Saul. He showed some longsuffering in Noah’s day (IPe.3:20) when he spared Noah and raised up the Gentile nations from his sons. Then when they rebelled at Babel He showed longsuffering to His favored nation 1500 more years. When they crucified His Son and stoned His prophet, God was supposed to give us the worst judgment ever (Mt.24:21) but showed “all longsuffering” instead.
God showed this longsuffering “for a pattern” to those who would believe on Him after Saul (Tit.3:3,4). But Paul is more than our pattern in salvation. There is a pattern of three more “faithful saying”s that show the fullness of how Paul is our pattern. He is our pattern in being godly (ITim. 4:8,9) because we are saved, not in order to get saved, as the pattern God gave thru Moses in the Law. He is our pattern in suffering for Christ and reigning with Him (IITim.2:11,12) and maintaining good works (Tit.3:8). How well should we maintain good works? Paul is our pattern, but he’s not here, so we should be a pattern (Ti.2:7)