Category Archives: Meditations

Enmity With the World is Friendship With God

You adulterous people!  Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?  Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”  James 4:4

With these words James presents a stark contrast between two different relationships.  There’s your relationship with the world and then there’s your relationship with God.  The two ought never to be of the same sort.  One way or another these two relationships should always be radically opposed.

Now we could consider what it means to have friendship with the world.  We could look at what that involves and all its different permutations.  If this were a sermon, I’d definitely do that.  However, in this brief meditation, I want to go a different route.  If what the Holy Spirit says is true (which it is), then we ought to be able to flip the terms around in his formulation.  When we do that, we discover something remarkable.

What I mean is this:  if “friendship with the world is enmity with God,” then the reverse follows as also true.  It is also true that “enmity with the world is friendship with God.”  Moreover, anyone who wishes to be an enemy of the world is a friend of God.  When we put it like that, two key questions still need to be answered.

First, what would it mean to be an enemy of the world?  Enmity with the world means a relationship of hostility or hatred with the world.  And what is meant by the world here?   It refers to everything associated with humanity’s rebellion against God.  “The world” is all the different ways in which sin manifests itself amongst human beings.  Being an enemy of the world really means being hostile towards sin.  Rather than embracing or coddling sinfulness, you hate it and long to see it destroyed.  Being an enemy of the world means you harbour no affection for the rebellion which has the potential to destroy you and other human beings.  This is the way it ought to be for those redeemed by Christ.

Second, what does it mean to be a friend of God?  Friendship with God means a relationship of close fellowship with him.  Being a friend of God means you love God and treasure your place with him.   Whereas once you were alienated from him, hating him, avoiding him and denying him, now you embrace him in trust and affection.

Both of these relationships work two ways.  When you’re a Christian and the world is your enemy, you are also the world’s enemy.  It’s both ways:  you hate the world (sinful rebellion), but the world also hates you and seeks to destroy you.  Satan is the world’s greatest strategist and cheerleader.  First Peter 5:8 reminds us:  “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour.”  Satan hates you and has a terrible plan for your life.  Similarly, because of your association with Christ the world hates you and wants to undo you (see John 15:18-19).

The other relationship also works two ways.  When you’re a Christian and God is your friend, you are also God’s friend.  It would be absurd to imagine a friendly relationship where only one side is a friend.  By their very nature, friendships work both ways.  Indeed, in Scripture, we read that sinful human beings like us enjoyed friendship with God – for example, Abraham in James 2:23.  This isn’t comparable to a human friendship between equals.  God isn’t our equal and even in our friendly relationship with him we are to interact with him with reverence and godly fear.  Psalm 25:14 says, “The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant.”  Similarly, Christ says in John 15:13, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.”  Our friendship includes not only love, but also fear and obedience.

The two relationships described in James 4:4 are antithetical.  They are antithetical in principle, but in practice we don’t always hate the world (sinful rebellion) as our enemy.  In practice, we don’t always act as if God is our friend.  If we did, we would always want to do his will.  We would always do it because we know our friend loves us and we respect him so highly.  Instead, so often we are the adulterous people the Holy Spirit upbraids.  Adultery is a betrayal in relationship.  You betray your best friend, your spouse, with adultery.  So we do when we cavort with the enemy of James 4:4.  We’re to see this and be disgusted with it.  We’re to repent of it and seek forgiveness for it through our Saviour.  When we do, our Friend will forgive and, to those who ask, he will more richly grant his Spirit so we may betray him less and less.  So, Christian:  hate the world – it’s your bitter enemy.  Love your God – he is your dear friend.



God’s Jealousy

The following is a talk given to the morning assembly of the Cornerstone Christian School in Lynden, Washington on December 13, 2017.

When we think of jealousy we often think of it as being a bad thing.  Your parents might tell you it’s not good to be jealous of someone else’s stuff or their looks or whatever else.  When we use the word “jealous” in that way, what we’re really talking about is envy.  Envy is a sin.  It’s coveting, sin against the Tenth Commandment.  You want what someone else has.  In that sense “jealousy” is not good.

But there is another type of jealousy we can say is good.  There is a kind of jealousy where we would even say it’s wrong if it’s not there when it needs to be.  You can see it best in the relationship between a husband and a wife.  A husband should be jealous for the love of his wife, and a wife should be jealous for the love of her husband.  That’s normal.

Shai Linne has a song where he vividly describes this jealousy.  It’s on his album The Attributes of God.  The song is called “the Jealous One” (listen here) and the first part of the song goes like this:

Ok, let’s begin- let your mind roam
Our scene takes place inside of a home
The husband has just walked up the staircase
He glares into space with despair on his face
His soul is on fire, inside there’s a war
That can’t be denied, He stands outside the door
On the other side, His bride and her lover
Oblivious to the fact their lie has been discovered
So as they embrace and try to make haste
They have no idea what’s about to take place
Gun in hand, he longs to understand
What would lead his wife into the arms of another man?
He thinks back to the day they made their vows
Before God, before the minister and the crowds
Exchange of the rings, the joy of the reception
Now a tainted memory destroyed by deception
He had been faithful to her
Now the fire of his desire got him ready to do something hateful to her
He never thought his wife would be just a faker
And that her lust would make her a covenant breaker
The promise of fidelity they made was glorious
But now his jealousy has made him furious
And they can’t see the danger
No screams or pleas they make could ever ease the pain or appease his anger
He kicks open the door- they jump out of the bed
“Don’t move!” is all he said, gun pointed at his head
The screams of his wife as she clutches the covers close
Her lover spoke to plead for his life
The husband says to the guy- “Look me in my eye
My face will be the last thing you see before you die”
The husband cried inside- his love was bona fide
Trouble for the bride- double homicide

You see, what kind of husband would just be okay with that situation?  What kind of husband would just look the other way while his wife is unfaithful to him?  He would be a bad husband if he were not jealous for the exclusive love of his wife.  Jealousy in the marriage relationship is a good thing, isn’t it?  By the way, Shai Linne is not saying it’s okay for jealous husbands to kill their wives, and neither am I.  He’s simply saying that in our world, jealousy produces these strong emotions that sometimes make people act violently.  That’s what happens in human relationships.

In the Bible, God says that he has a relationship with us.  He compares the relationship with his people to a marriage.  God is the husband and his people are his bride.  This is found in a few places in Scripture, but the place where it’s described most is in the book of Hosea.  At the time Hosea was written, God’s people were being wicked and sinful.  They were worshipping idols.  God says this was unfaithfulness to him.  They were in a covenant relationship, a relationship which is like a marriage.  In that relationship they were only supposed to love him and be committed only to him.  But God says in Hosea that they were like a wife who commits adultery.  And God doesn’t look the other way.  He sees this and it arouses his jealousy.  He becomes righteously angry at their spiritual adultery and he expresses his jealous anger.  In chapter 1 of Hosea he says that he will have no mercy on his people.  He says they are no longer his people and he is no longer their God.  And there will be consequences.  It’s all very intense.

Let’s try to think a little more deeply about this.  First, what exactly is God’s jealousy?  We could say that it is God’s intense zeal to protect the exclusiveness of the relationship with his people.  It is God’s passionate desire to have all the love and commitment of his covenant people.  Furthermore, it leads to God’s wrath against his people when they are unfaithful to him.

There is far more we can say about it.  If you look in article 1 of the Belgic Confession, you find a list of God’s attributes.  It’s a good biblical list, but it is not a complete list.  God’s jealousy is not directly mentioned there.  The Westminster Confession of Faith is another Reformed confession, used by our Presbyterian sister churches.  The Westminster Confession has an article mentioning God’s attributes as well.  It’s a fuller list than you find in the Belgic Confession.  But there too, we don’t find any explicit mention of God’s jealousy.

This is because God’s jealousy is usually connected with another attribute of God.  Some connect it to his righteousness and holiness.  They say because God is righteous and holy, he must be jealous for the love of his people.  There is truth to that – in Joshua 24:19, Joshua says to Israel, “You are not able to serve the LORD, for he is a holy God.  He is a jealous God…”  You find the same thing in the Second Commandment.  We hear it every Sunday:  you shall not worship idols, “for I the LORD your God am a jealous God.”  His holiness means that he must be jealous for the exclusive love of Israel.  If they don’t love him exclusively, they will face his holy judgment and wrath.  He will visit “the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation” of those who hate him.  That’s righteous, holy wrath.

However, in view of what we read in Hosea and elsewhere, we can also see God’s jealousy as connected to his love.  If a husband didn’t love his wife, there would be no jealousy if she were unfaithful.  Similarly, if God didn’t love his people, there would be no jealousy if they were unfaithful.  God’s love is therefore at the root of his jealousy.

One of the key things to remember about God’s jealousy is that it has a background against sin.  To say it more correctly, it has a background against the possibility of sin.  A husband is jealous for the love of his wife, because we live in a broken world where we know unfaithfulness happens.  He doesn’t want his wife to be unfaithful to him.  But in a perfect world where nobody was ever unfaithful, jealousy wouldn’t need to exist.  It’s the same with God.  He is jealous for the love his people, because there is a fallen world where unfaithfulness happens.  God doesn’t want his people to be unfaithful to him.  Therefore, because it is a broken and fallen world, God expresses his jealous love in his Word.

Whenever we sin against God, we are being unfaithful to him.  Whenever we break one of his commandments and do our will instead of his, we are committing spiritual adultery.  We are God’s people, but we are not acting like his people.  Instead, we’re acting like we belong to someone else.  The Bible says that our sin is covenant-breaking – it violates the relationship with God and provokes his jealousy.

This is why we need Jesus.  As I mentioned, God’s jealousy exists within the context of his relationship with his people.  We have a special word for that relationship:  the covenant.  God has his covenant with us, with believers and their children.  This is a relationship between a holy God and a sinful people.  The distance between these two could not be greater.  But there is someone who has bridged that distance.  That someone is the Mediator of the covenant, Jesus Christ.  He goes between a sinful people and a holy God and he makes the relationship work.  He does that in two particular ways.

One is that Jesus took the jealous wrath of God on himself before and during his time on the cross.  Though he had never done anything to deserve it, he took our place.  Jesus took our hell in body and soul.  He took the punishment against all our unfaithfulness.  If we are trusting in Christ, then God promises that all our unfaithfulness and spiritual adultery is forgiven.  We are restored to a healthy relationship with him.  The breach has been healed.

With his blood shed on the cross, Christ wipes our slates clean.  There’s not a trace of unfaithfulness left on our account with God.  That’s good news!   But the good news gets even better.  Our Saviour doesn’t just leave our slates clean.  He fills them up with his own righteousness.  He was consistently faithful to God.  He never worshipped idols.  Jesus never provoked his Father to jealousy.  He was always 100% committed to God, loved him perfectly, obeyed him flawlessly.  The Belgic Confession echoes the Bible when it says that “his obedience is ours when we believe in him.”  When we are joined to Christ through faith, God looks at us and he sees Christ and his faithfulness, his love, his commitment.  He sees us as he sees his own Son.

The forgiveness offered on the cross plus the obedience offered during Christ’s life makes the covenant of grace work between us and God.  Even though we are still sinful and imperfect, we can still have this beautiful relationship with a holy God.  It’s all through Christ, through Christ alone.

This is the gospel, this is the good news that warms our hearts in love for God.  When we see Christ in his glory living and dying for us, then we’re in the right place to begin hating all our unfaithfulness.  We’re in the right place to see it as something to be suffocated.  We have to kill it.

Because we’ve been rescued by Christ and saved by God’s love, we don’t want to provoke him to jealousy anymore.  How do we avoid doing that?  First of all, we have to recognize that when the Bible speaks about God’s jealousy oftentimes it’s in the context of idols.  Exodus 34:14 says, “For you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.”  Idols are not just Baal, Ashtaroth and all those false gods of the Old Testament.  Idols are anything we turn to the in place of God.  John Calvin once said that we are idol factories.  We crank them out.  We create them out of everything and anything.  Idols are anything we turn to in the place of God for joy, satisfaction, or purpose.  Sports can be an idol.  So can money, music, sexual pleasure, work, and just about anything.  We need to see our idols and see them for what they are.  Jeremiah 2:13 says that they are broken cisterns that can’t hold water.  They can’t sustain life.  Idols are never going to bless you – instead, they’re only going to destroy you.  Part of the way they do that is by wrecking your relationship with God.  Once you see that reality, you will see that there is a superior joy, a superior satisfaction, and the highest purpose in God, in loving God and living in his ways.  Listen to what his Word says about the reality of idols.  Don’t listen to the world and its fantasies about idols.  The world tells us lies about our idols.  The Bible tells us the truth, and it’s that truth that will set us free.  It’s that truth that will help us to steer clear of provoking our God to jealousy with our idols.

I don’t think we reflect very often on God’s jealousy.  That’s too bad, because this is something included in the Bible to make us see the real nature of God’s relationship with us.  When we sin against God with our idols, it’s like a spouse cheating.  The spouse cheated upon takes it personally.  The spouse cheated upon feels hurt and angry.  God’s jealousy tells us that God takes it personally when we’re unfaithful to him.  What kind of God would he be if he weren’t like that?  What would it say about his love if he weren’t jealous for our love?   Seeing this reality of what our God is like and what our relationship to him is like is meant to draw us closer to him, meant to motivate us to care about being faithful to him.  May he help us with his Holy Spirit to do that.

Paul’s Thorn and Prayer

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.  But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.” — 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

This piece of Scripture often gets discussed because of the “thorn” Paul mentions.  Bible readers are interested in understanding what exactly this “thorn” was.  There are all sorts of theories, but they’re all speculative.  The truth is we have no idea what exactly it was that God sent to Paul to keep him humble.

More important than the exact identity of the “thorn” is the fact that God sends it.  He sent something to Paul which he perceived as difficult, as an adversity.  God had a purpose behind it, but Paul experienced it as something that he would rather do without.  Believers have no difficulty believing that God sends the things we experience as delightful and good.  The challenge is believing that God also sends hardship.  Yet Scripture teaches that, not just once, but repeatedly:  Isaiah 45:7, Lam. 3:28, Psalm 60:1-4, Psalm 66:10-12, Psalm 71:20, Psalm 102:10 and many more places.

In this case, Paul struggled with why he had to deal with this adversity.  So he prayed.  Interestingly, he says that he prayed “to the Lord” about this.  From what follows in verses 9 and 10, it’s clear that this is a reference to Christ.  Paul prayed to Christ, not just once, but three times about his “thorn.”  There are those who continue to argue that believers may not pray to Jesus.  Instead, they say, we must only pray to God the Father (the first person of the Trinity).  That argument is based on a misunderstanding of the address of the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father who is in heaven…”  It misunderstands “Father” there to be a reference to the first person of the Trinity.  Instead, “Father” is used there in the Old Testament manner of speaking as a reference to God.  If Christians are only supposed to pray to the first person of the Trinity, then, to be consistent, one must conclude that Paul sinned here in 2 Corinthians 12.  However, the fact that the Lord Jesus heard him and answered him would indicate that there was nothing inappropriate in Paul’s prayer.  It was acceptable for him to pray to the Lord Jesus — and so it is for believers today as well.

The answer Paul received from Jesus is also worth pondering:  “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  Surprisingly, weakness is the way God has often worked.  In the Old Testament, he takes the runt and makes him a leader.  You can think of Gideon or David.  In the New Testament, this principle is exemplified at the cross.  What could be weaker than a naked dying man on a Roman instrument of torture reserved for criminals?  Christ himself exemplified the principle of power made perfect in weakness.  Now he speaks to one united to him and says that he is experiencing the same.  Just as with the cross, there is a goal in the weakness.  There is a purpose in the thorn.  And there is enough divine grace from the Saviour to see it properly and endure it contentedly.

Does it really matter, then, what the “thorn” was?  Obviously it was something difficult.  Yet the Spirit, in his wisdom, hid it from our view.  The situation is comparable to many of the Psalms.  Many of the Psalms are laments — they feature the psalmist singing the blues.  Some of the lament Psalms are tied to concrete historical situations, but many are not.  There too, the Spirit has hid the circumstances from view, reminding us that there is a timeless quality to these words.  The words of Scripture in these cases can and should be easily “universalized.”  As we suffer adversities and hardships, these passages of Scripture can help us with the right perspective.  We too can learn contentment in the midst of difficulty, knowing that God’s strength comes in weakness.

The Mountain of Blessing and Life

For there the LORD has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.”  Psalm 133:3b

There’s a question I often ask my catechism students:  where is the temple today?  We all know that the temple and sacrifices of the Old Testament are gone.  That’s all been fulfilled in Christ.  We know that because the temple curtain tore top to bottom while our Saviour hung on the cross (Matt. 27:51).  That was God’s announcement that this Old Testament institution was finished.  But does that mean that the temple idea is altogether gone?

When I ask that question of my students, I expect a certain answer.  Most students jump to the teaching of 1 Cor. 6:19 – our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit.  While definitely not a wrong answer, it is an incomplete answer.  Because it is incomplete, we can sometimes struggle in making New Testament applications of Old Testament passages like Psalm 133.

Let me briefly fill out the New Testament’s answer to the question of the present-day temple.  It begins with Christ himself.  Referring to his own body, he said in John 2:19, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.”  Christ is the temple – he is God come to dwell among us.  Christ’s body, the church, is also the temple.  In 1 Cor. 3:16, the Holy Spirit says, “Do you [plural] not know that you [plural] are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you [plural]?”  The Spirit says the same thing in 1 Pet. 2:5.  The church of Christ is the temple of God, his dwelling place.  Then, yes, we do also find that individual Christians are also referred to as the temple of the Spirit in 1 Cor. 6:19.  Finally, in Revelation 21, the entire new creation becomes the temple of God as he comes down to make his dwelling place with man.

Going back to Psalm 133, the Holy Spirit was first speaking about the temple as it existed on Mount Zion.  He spoke of the unity of God’s people being like the dew of Hermon which falls on the tops of Mount Zion in Jerusalem — in other words, on the temple.  The temple is where Yahweh “commanded the blessing, life forevermore.”  The temple is where God’s people would go to make the sacrifices for sin which spoke of the promised reconciliation in the Messiah.  As a place of blood and death it pointed to substitutionary atonement, and therefore, eternal life.

But how are believers today to find encouragement from these words?  By asking ourselves, “Where is the temple today?” and then applying the New Testament’s four-fold answer.

First and foremost, God has commanded blessing and life forevermore in the temple of Christ’s body.  He was where our sacrifice for sins was made.  We have blessings because of what happened with the New Testament temple.  We have eternal life because that temple was destroyed and then raised up again in three days – as Christ prophesied in John 2:19.

God has also commanded blessing and life forevermore in Christ’s body, the church.  The church is where the means of grace point us to the gospel.  The preaching of the Scriptures and the administration of the sacraments both tell us of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.  The church is also where we’re discipled for life in Christ.  God’s blessings are heaped upon us corporately through this manifestation of the New Testament temple.

What about the individual believer as a temple of the Holy Spirit?  If we’re Christians, the Spirit has regenerated us.  That has brought us the blessing of faith.  That has connected us to Christ and life in him.  The Spirit also constantly works renewal and holiness in our lives.  You see, God has lavished us with blessing and eternal life in these fleshly temples too.

Finally, we need to reflect on the new creation temple in Revelation 21.  There, because of the gospel of Christ’s redemption, we’ll certainly experience God’s blessing and life forevermore.  It will all culminate in this eternal joy in God’s presence.  The blessings of the original Old Testament temple pointed ahead to Christ and the blessings in this temple will point back to Christ and his cross.  Blessings and life forevermore will be based on the worthy Lamb who was slain.

Embedded in the biblical idea of the temple is God’s grace in effecting reconciliation with sinners.  God never owed it to the Israelites to dwell among them, nor did anyone ever deserve to have Christ dwell on this earth to suffer and die for sinners.  However, also embedded in the idea, in both the Old Testament and New Testament, is human responsibility.  Israelite believers were called by God to approach him at the temple with sacrifices.  Today, we’re called by God to approach him through Jesus Christ.  We’re “to enter into the temple” through faith in our Redeemer.  We’re called to be “living stones” in his temple, to be living members of his body, the church.  We’re called to keep ourselves holy as temples of the Holy Spirit.  Now, as we walk in faith, we can look forward to blessings and life forevermore in the ultimate fulfilment of the temple in the age to come.

He Came to Save Sinners — A Meditation on 1 Tim. 1:15


If you were somewhere with some unbelievers and they were to ask you for a brief summary of what you believe, what would you say?   A great answer would be what we have here in 1 Timothy 1:15, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”  If you’re looking for the briefest summary of the gospel, it’s hard to beat these words.

From the first words of verse 15, it would seem that it has served as a summary of the faith since the time of the apostles.  Paul writes that it is a trustworthy saying.  By calling it a “saying,” he indicates that this was a common expression amongst Christians.  Perhaps they used it to encourage one another and perhaps they used it to witness to unbelievers – probably both.  Whatever the case may have been, the expression was well-known to Paul and Timothy and other early Christians.  Moreover, it was a trustworthy or reliable saying and worthy of full acceptance.  You know how sometimes there can be sayings that are not so reliable.  There can even be sayings that circulate amongst Christians that we think are biblical, but really aren’t.  For instance, “God helps those who help themselves.”  It’s not in the Bible and it doesn’t express a biblical truth.  God helps the helpless – that’s the truth.  “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” is also the truth, a fully reliable saying that everyone should sign on to.

There is a lot packed into this little saying.  If you were to give this brief summary of your faith, you could certainly use it as a springboard to explain all the important elements of the gospel.  For example, the one who came into the world is “Christ Jesus.”  Who is this person?  You could explain that he is the eternal Son of God.  He is the second person of the Holy Trinity.  He is true God.  He is the Messiah – Christ means “Messiah,” and Messiah means that he is the anointed one of God – anointed to be a prophet, priest, and king.  He is the Messiah that was promised in the Old Testament.  In the fullness of time, at just the right moment, he came into the world.

How did he come into the world?  There you get to the story of Christ’s conception and birth.  He took on our human flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary through the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit.  He came into the world as one of us, a human being in every respect, yet without sin.

And who sent him into the world?  Scripture is clear that the Father sent him out of love for his creatures.  The Father sent him in faithfulness to his promises to Adam and Eve, to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David and others.  And when the Father sent him, the Son willingly agreed to go.  The Son of God didn’t have to be bribed or forced.  Instead, he gladly came into the world, even though he knew the cost involved.  He gladly came because of his love for fallen creatures like us.

This saying also answers the question of why he came into the world.  It does that with the three simple words, “to save sinners.”  Again, there’s much compacted into these words.  We can tease it out and see the full weight of what’s being said here.  “To save sinners,” but to save them from what or whom?  Sinners need to be saved from the guilt of sin, from the heavy burden of a guilty conscience.  Sinners need to be saved from the slavery of sin, from the chains that keep you doing the foolishness that will destroy you.  But most of all, sinners need to be saved from the eternal consequences of sin.  Sin arouses the wrath of God against the sinner.  God is holy and he does not turn a blind eye when people rebel against him and slap him in the face.  He is the King of the universe, and when people sin they are committing treason against this King.  The problem is that he does not tolerate it.  It justly provokes him to wrath.  Sinners need to be saved from the expression of God’s justice in an eternal, conscious torment in hell.

Who are these sinners who need to be saved from all that?  The answer is simple:  all of us.  All of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  No one is exempt.  We all need Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ is the one who came to save sinners.  How did he do it?  First of all, God demands perfect obedience from all human beings.  He expects every single human being to perfectly keep every single part of his law.  Jesus Christ came into the world to do that for those who believe in him.  As we look to him in faith, his perfect obedience is credited to us.  The gospel announces that Christ Jesus came into the world to live the obedient life that you could not live for yourself.

He also died the death you were supposed to die.  He suffered and died in your place.  In his suffering and especially on the cross, he bore the wrath of God against your sin so that you would be forgiven.  When he was on that cross, you were with him.  You were on his heart.  He offered up the sacrifice which turned away the wrath of God from you and returned his favour.

We have the guarantee of that in Christ’s resurrection.  When Jesus rose from the dead, that was God’s way of saying, “The sacrifice for these sinners has been received and approved.”  It was God’s sign to us that sin and death had been definitely conquered.  A risen Saviour promises us that his mission to save sinners was truly accomplished.

The saying provides a simple summary of the gospel.  It would be easy to memorize this and keep it in your back pocket, so to speak:  “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”  But then Paul adds something about himself, “of whom I am the foremost.”  There are some who stumble over these words.  People will say, “Paul, how can you say that?  How can you say that you are the chief of sinners, the worst of sinners?  Don’t you have Jesus Christ as your Saviour?  You’re righteous in him.”  That would be one approach.  Another approach would be more in line with the dominant thinking around us today, “Paul, you have low self-esteem.  You shouldn’t think so low about yourself.  Stop being so negative about yourself and start looking at the positives.”  However, you cannot get around these words.  They are in the Word of God.  They were written by inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  These words come from God and God has a purpose in these words.  So we must be very careful not to discount these words and throw them away as being merely the words of an apostle suffering from either bad theology or a bad self-image.

What does God want to say to us here?  We need to look at the context.  In the immediate context of verse 15, Paul writes about his past life.  He had been a blasphemer, persecutor and insolent or bold opponent of the gospel.  His past involved much sin against the Lord.  Paul looks back at that with regret.  He knows how huge a debt he’s been forgiven, how much grace he’s been shown.  So there’s that.

However, if we look at the broader context of Scripture, we also see Paul as a Christian who was quite aware of the darkness which still lingered in his own heart.  It was Paul the apostle who wrote Romans 7:24, “Wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?”  When he wrote that, he used the present tense, “Wretched man that I am!”  That parallels 1 Timothy 1:15, “of whom I am the foremost.”  That’s also present tense.  While he was a sinner in the past before Christ saved him, he continues to be a sinner in the present.  Yes, he is justified by faith in Jesus Christ through grace alone.  In God’s sight, he has been declared righteous.  Yet, his life still involves this struggle with sin each day.  He is both justified and a sinner.

Here’s the point:  Paul writes this letter to Timothy as someone who has been a Christian now for several years, probably for about 30 years.  The life of a Christian involves growth and part of that growth is a growing awareness of your sin.  You grow in holiness, but also grow in becoming more sensitive to your remaining sinfulness.  As you mature as a Christian, you became ever more aware of your need for Jesus Christ.  That’s where Paul is writing from.  He’s writing from the position of someone who’s been growing in his faith.  He doesn’t need to look at others and their sin.  He knows that the remnants of his old nature are there and they’re horrifically ugly.  From where he stands, he can’t see any comparison with others because he knows the great need he himself has.  God wants all of us to be moving to that point.  He wants all of us to be saying, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, and I’m the one who needs him most because I know my own wickedness.  I see it more than anyone else.”

Now when we share the gospel with unbelievers, they might lash out at us and call us self-righteous.  They’ll assume that we think we’ve got it all together and we’re talking down at them from a position of righteousness.  We have to disarm them right away.  Maybe even beat them to the punch.  You have to say, “Do I think I’m better than you because I’m a Christian?  No, in fact, if you were to look into my heart, like I look into my heart, you would know that I’m not.  I’m a sinner too, a terrible sinner.  Friend, I need Jesus Christ and so do you.  Listen, I’m just a beggar telling other beggars where to find bread.”

“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”  — it is indeed a trustworthy saying and deserving of full acceptance by us and others.  Let’s believe this today as we worship and always.  Let’s also go out into the world with the only good news that can reconcile sinners to God.