“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners– of whom I am the foremost.” from the letter to St. Timothy.
The first and second letters to Timothy, along with the letter to Titus form what are called Paul’s Pastoral Epistles. Timothy is first mentioned in the 16th chapter of the book of the Acts of the Apostles. Paul and Barnabas had a falling out after a sharp disagreement over whom should go with them on the next missionary journey. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus. Paul chose Silas to go with him, and “he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.” (Acts 15:41)
In Acts 16: 1, we read, “Then he came to Derbe and Lystra. (Lystra is in present day central Turkey.) And behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a certain Jewish woman who believed, but his father was Greek.” Paul enlisted Timothy to go along on his journeys from there on.
While Paul was in Greece, he was accompanied by several men who had been learning from him, and had witnessed the miracles he did. Then he informed them that he was being compelled by the Holy Spirit to travel to Jerusalem alone.
Before he left he committed them to God and gave them this charge: “Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God which he obtained with the blood of his own Son.
The Greek word for overseer, is ἐπισκόπους (episcopos) from which comes the word Episcopal, meaning “of Bishops.” So then Paul tells Timothy, and the others, that they are bishops in the church of God by the power of the Holy Spirit, and that they are to care for the church, or in another translation, to shepherd the church as pastors. He reminds them of how he has instructed them, saying, “In all things I have shown you that by so toiling one must help the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
Now, in his first letter to Timothy, Paul reinforces when he has been taught. He warns Timothy that there will be false teachers who try to pervert the doctrine of the faith.
In chapter 1, verses 8 to 11, he writes,
“Now we know that the law is good, if any 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 murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, immoral persons, sodomites, kidnapers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the glorious gospel of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.”
Paul knew full well that these things would happen, and warned Timothy and the other overseers against it. It is too bad that many of the leaders of the church of God have ignored these warnings.
Paul, as in most of his letters, is so grateful to the Lord for turning his life around. He was a miserable sinner, after all, and by his own accounts, a man of violence. He expressed his gratitude in this letter that we heard today. He wrote that Jesus strengthened him, because he was faithful, and the Lord appointed him for his service. Paul had been a miserable sinner, and an accomplished one at that!
He wrote this: “The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners– of whom I am the foremost.”
What strikes me the most about this letter is the amount of gratitude that St. Paul has because of this incredible gift he has received. His humility is evident in his writing as well. He knows he was completely unworthy of his calling, and yet the Lord chose him.
Remember the words of Jesus to Simon the Pharisee concerning the woman who bathed Jesus’ feet with her tears, and dried them with her hair: “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”
Let me read the passage for today once more:
I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners– of whom I am the foremost. But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
Does that sound like a grateful man? Yes it does! This reminds me that I am grateful for much the same thing. The Lord appointed me to his service, even though I was a miserable sinner.
I got down on my knees and begged him to come into my heart and straighten me up.
He forgave my sins, and paid the price by dying on the Cross. The Cross is at the center for our lives for that very reason. We wear Crosses. We decorate our walls with Crosses. The Lord changed it from a method of shameful death into means for eternal life.
Did you know that there is a feast day for the Cross? It was yesterday, always September 14, the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.
This feast celebrates three things: the discovery of the true cross by St. Helena, the dedication of the Basilica and Shrine built on Calvary by her son Emperor Constantine, and the triumph of the cross by which Christ defeated sin and death, winning for us salvation and everlasting beatific life in heaven.
Keep your eyes on the Holy Cross, my brothers and sisters. Wear a cross every day, and remember that by the Cross we are saved and we have eternal life.
O Savior of the world, by your Cross and precious Blood you have redeemed us: Save us and help us, we humbly beseech you, O God. Amen
The Universal Exaltation of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross