1 Tim 1:15-17
15 This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.
16 Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting.
17 Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be! St. Paul has quite a lot to say to Timothy in the three verses we heard this in this morning’s Epistle reading. And before we look at a few specific things, I’d like to repeat the verses in a more conversational way, that’ll also allow me to put them a bit more in the context that St. Paul writes them in. In this section of the first Epistle to Timothy, St. Paul is writing about himself as an example of the saving grace of God. Before our first verse, St. Paul lists some of the terrible sins he committed before his conversion to Christ, most specifically his persecution of the Christian Church. So we understand very clearly how our reading this morning began with St. Paul calling himself the chief of all sinners. In our reading this morning, St. Paul says—The purpose for which Jesus Christ came into the world was to save sinners. I am the chief, I am the worst of sinners. But Christ has shown me mercy; he has called me to His ministry as an Apostle, so that the salvation of the worst sinner would be an example for others. In my life, the work of Christ will be a pattern for those who desire to believe on Him unto life everlasting. If I can come to know Christ, then anyone can. And he ends very liturgically—now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen. St. Paul offers God glory for the saving work of Christ, for the work Christ did in his own life, and for the manner in which God works—not necessarily the way we might expect. We might expect the great missionary and apostle of the early Church to be a very different sort of person than St. Paul had been. But God, in His knowledge that surpasses all human understanding, has chosen Paul. In the first two verses of this morning’s reading we have pattern, an offsetting pattern, which really is necessary for Christian life. Two realizations that we all need to live with each day, to remind ourselves of on a daily basis. 1—Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. 2—Christ has shown me mercy so that others can see God’s work and believe. As Christians (especially in the religious climate of America today), we can never have a “holier-than-thou” attitude. And really even outside of our relationships with others, we can’t begin to think of ourselves as righteous. We can’t start seeing ourselves as being something better than what other people are. Our constant memory, as Orthodox Christians, is “I am the chief among sinners.” Each of our sins (St. Paul says) crucifies Christ again. If I know Christ, and I continue to sin, that’s much more diabolical than the sins of anyone else. Once we lose this perspective of the weight of our own sin, then we’re heading down the path of delusion. And the Church constantly reminds us of our sin, not in a morbid way, but to help keep us on the narrow path. When preparing ourselves for Holy Communion we pray: “thou art truly the Christ, the Son of the living God, who didst come into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first” (Final Prayer before Receiving Holy Communion). And in our daily prayers we say: “O God, cleanse me a sinner, for never have I done any good thing in Thy sight” (Morning Prayer 1 of St. Macarius the Great). But at the same time as we must realize our own sinfulness, we know that God has shown us mercy in Christ, and joined us to the Church. And as members of Christ’s Body we have a ministry. And a ministry that all Christians share is to be the image of Christ for a lost and dying world. Christ continues always to be present in the world in us, in His Holy Body. So that by seeing us, by seeing the work that Christ has done and is continuing to do in our lives, others might believe. By seeing the way we show forth Christ (even unconsciously), others can be called to Him. These two pieces of knowledge are a beautiful thing when they come together in the life of a Christian. Constant awareness of our own sinfulness. And a constant awareness that though we’re unworthy, Christ can work in the world through us to call others to Himself. Knowledge of our sins keeps us from pride in knowing this great ministry that we’re to do; and the great mercy and grace that God has and continues to shown us keeps us from despair at the weight of our sins. Remembering our unworthiness, and remembering God’s great love and compassion, we go into the world with the words of St. Paul on our lips. Unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

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