“This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief”1 Timothy 1:15
In charging Timothy with the responsibility to keep others faithful to the true Gospel against those who were infiltrating with error, Paul relates how the grace of God was and is being enacted toward him. He obtained mercy because he did it “ignorantly in unbelief” (v 13) but the grace of God was “exceedingly abundant” in delivering him from that ignorance and unbelief (v 14). He then professes the essential teaching that Jesus came to save sinners. What we may skip over is what he then writes, “of whom I am chief.”
A casual reading may interpret this as saying he was the chief of sinners before he was delivered by the grace of God. That would be a misunderstanding. He is acknowledging that he knows he is still currently the chief of sinners. We will have a shallow understanding of God’s active grace toward us if we don’t know that we are still chief sinners. We may believe theologically that we are but until we know it in our hearts we will have a diminished view of God’s grace.
Paul writes something similar in Romans 3:23. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” The grammar in this verse reveals that we (saved sinners) keep on falling short. The self-righteous doesn’t know this and thereby reveals he has only a shallow understanding of God’s grace.
We are not told what Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was (2 Corinthians 12:7-10) and perhaps we should be glad of that or we might think there is only one kind of “thorn”. Had he told us we might be taken up with that one instead of the real point of the passage: “My [God’s] grace is sufficient for you” (v 9). Though we know we continually fall short and we know we are the chief of sinners we can also know that God’s exceeding abundant grace is sufficient.
Satan may attempt to use that to discourage us but God wants us to advance in our knowledge, understanding and experience of His exceeding abundant grace. Paul goes on to write “for My [God’s] strength is made perfect in weakness” and “For when I am weak I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). Jesus said, “without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Without God’s active grace through Christ Jesus we cannot minister to others or serve and worship God.