The sound doctrine of the gospel of Christ produces wonderfully transformed lives. Paul himself was a marvellous example. He confesses that at one time, before he knew Jesus, he was “a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man” (v.13). As a self righteous Pharisee (Philippians 3:5) proud of his religious credentials and zeal, he thought he was serving God. But he suffered from the twin conditions of ignorance (he did not recognise Jesus for who He is) and unbelief (he did not take seriously whatever little information he had about Jesus). As a result, he became a violent persecutor of Christians.
But God showered His grace and mercy on Paul (vv.13,14,16), converted him and, remarkably, made him into a key apostle. God’s gracious choices are full of mystery because they often involve the most unlikely of people. Why did God choose you and me to be His children?
It is possible that as we progress in our Christian lives, we may forget how merciful God has been to us. We may begin believing that God is fortunate to have us in His kingdom! In Paul’s case, the older he grew, the more he realised his sinful condition and his dire need for God’s forgiveness and mercy. Therefore, although he had argued in one of his earliest epistles (written in AD 49) that he was as good an apostle as any other (Galatians 1:1, 2:11), six years later he described himself as “the least of the apostles” who did “not even deserve to be called an apostle” (1 Corinthians 15:9). After another five years had passed, he considered himself “less than the least of all God’s people” (Ephesians 3:8). Finally, in 1 Timothy (four years later), Paul referred to himself as “the worst of sinners”—not once but twice (1 Timothy 1:15–16).
Paul became increasingly humble as his knowledge of God grew—a sure sign that he was drawing closer to God. Notice Paul’s description of the majesty and glory of God (v.17) and the “unlimited patience of Christ” (v.16). As a recipient of God’s transforming grace and mercy, Paul is convinced that Jesus is the Saviour of sinners (v.15). Hence he was totally committed to preaching the gospel (v.12).
Why do you think Paul considered himself to be the worst of sinners? Do you feel the same? Is it true that the worst sinners appreciate God’s mercy the most (Luke 7:47)?
In what way has your knowledge of God grown over time? What do you know of Him that you did not know 5 or 10 years ago?