November 14, 2011
by Sarah Jennings, Crosswalk.com Family Editor
But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. 1 Timothy 1:16 NIV
Paul is one of the most beloved Saints of all time. His love for the Lord, preserved in the canon of Scripture, inspires many to this day. Yet, even this extraordinary man was a sinner -- according to his own words "the worst of sinners." How can this be? Surely he is just exaggerating for effect? Or taking humility a little too far?
But I like to take Paul at his word here. After all, this man had persecuted Christians before his conversion. He had done horrible things in the name of righteousness. Surely, he knew his shortcomings more intimately than you or I. So, let's say Paul truly was the worst of sinners -- and yet we see God did not withhold His mercy.
One of the most moving stories in the Bible is that of another terrible sinner - the woman with the alabaster jar. Interrupting a dinner party at a Pharisee's house, this woman (in what I think would be a very socially awkward moment) wept over Jesus' feet, wiped them dry with her hair and applied perfume from the jar.
Simon, the hosting Pharisee, was disgusted at this public display of humility, especially by a woman known to be a sinner. Jesus replied to his indignation with this story as recorded in Luke 7: 41- 43:
"Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?"
Simon replied, "I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled."
"You have judged correctly," Jesus said.
Jesus went on to say, "I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven -- for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little." (v. 47)
So often, when we think of our sins and shortcomings we feel ashamed. We want to hide from God like Adam and Eve hid after eating the forbidden fruit. We think God, in His divine perfection, could never want us back or look on us again with the same love as before. Perhaps you've even experienced this kind of rejection in a tangible way -- through the abandonment of a family member or loved one.
But this isn't the way God works.
The amazing thing about God's mercy is its accessibility. The bigger the sin, the more anxious God is to pour out His mercy at the first hint of repentance. The Bible tells us that when one sinner repents, heaven rejoices (Luke 15:10). And through Paul's testimony, we can know without a doubt of Christ's unlimited patience and unfailing love. God seeks the love of sinners -- no matter how many times you've sinned or how dark the sin, He desires to shower you with His mercy if you are willing to receive it.
Intersecting Faith & Life: Matthew 5: 7 says Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. We are called to show mercy just as Christ shows us mercy. Is there someone in your life in need of your mercy and forgiveness? Give it.