Written by: Capoccia, Tony Posted on: 02/22/2003
Category: Bible Studies
Source: Tony Capoccia
Many people are not aware how incredible it is that I proclaim the Word of
God. Eight years ago I would have been found as a divorced person driving
around the streets of Kokomo, Indiana, in my brand new Corvette,
frequenting the bars and night spots, becoming drunk on many occasions,
making the "single scene" where I used women to satisfy my own lusts, and
pursuing material happiness by buying those things the world said would
bring me satisfaction. You would have heard me cursing, slandering,
complaining, arguing, and also boasting in all the "dirty stories" I could
tell. Now I ask you, how does a man who lived that life end up eight
years later proclaiming the Word of God on a Christian Bulletin Board?
How does Moses, who committed the sin of murder, end up being used by God
to become the Spiritual leader of the nation Israel, God's chosen people,
to lead them out of Egypt into the Promised Land and to teach them about
How does David, one who was not only redeemed but also made king over
Israel, (and thus responsible for the Spiritual Leadership and vitality of
that nation), commit not only the sin of adultery with Bathsheba but also
the murder of her husband, continue to rule as King and even be used by
God to write many of the Psalms found in the Old Testament?
And lastly, how does the Apostle Paul, who was responsible for the deaths
and persecutions of many Christians, end up becoming not only a Christian
himself, but an Apostle of Christ picked by God to pen most of the New
Yes, how does all this happen? It happens through the Grace of God and the
Total Forgiveness granted through the Cross of Christ.
The text that teaches this is found in 1st Timothy, Chapter 1, verses 15
and 16. This portion of Scripture addresses the subject of forgiveness
with the conversion story of the Apostle Paul. This Scripture has a
special place in my heart because I can identify with Paul when he calls
himself the worst of sinners:
"Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance:
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am
the worst. 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."
In 1978, before I became a Christian, a man named Bob Hey came to work for
me. He was a Christian and as he beheld my life and saw the drunkenness,
immorality, materialism, and the hardness of my heart toward true spiritual
things, he and his wife Susan began to pray for me. They said, "Lord, if
you can save this man, then you can save anyone." As a direct result of
their prayers, on June 25, 1978, I got down on my knees and prayed that
Christ would become my personal Savior. God did save me that day, and
totally forgave me of the wickedness of my life.
I don't know where you are spiritually. Perhaps you have tasted the
salvation of God and have experienced the forgiveness of Christ, but have
not fully understood the extent of such grace; or, perhaps you are like I
was, lost in sin. Whatever spiritual state you are in the Bible has some
Good News to tell you: God offers Total Forgiveness for anyone, anytime,
and for any sins.
In our text 1Tim 1:15-16, the Apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the
Holy Spirit, is writing to Timothy, a young pastor who was leading a church
in the city of Ephesus in Asia Minor. The date of the letter is somewhere
between 62 and 67 AD. Paul has just been released from his first
imprisonment in Rome. Soon he will be arrested and martyred, and as he
writes this letter to his friend and disciple Timothy, he knows that soon
he will die. These are Paul's final words to Timothy, the Church, and to
us. He shares the concerns of his heart as he prepares to cease
ministering, reminding Timothy of the fundamental truths of salvation that
Timothy needs to believe and teach as Paul's successor.
Paul begins this section by stating in verse 15, "Here is a trustworthy
saying that deserves full acceptance. . ." When he says it is a
trustworthy saying, he is telling Timothy, and us, that what he is about to
say is true. Now we know that everything that Paul spoke, as recorded in
the Bible, were true statements, but this one he knew would be doubted so
he says beforehand, "It is true!" And for added emphasis he adds the
second part, that "it deserves full acceptance." In other words you must
believe it Timothy! This phrase of introduction is used only three other
times in the entire New Testament. And only one of those three include the
second part, which demands our belief of what is about to be said.
So the truth of 1Tim 1:15-16 is so unbelievable that the Holy Spirit
through Paul had to warn us in advance that we would have a hard time
believing it. What truth? The unbelievable truth of the extent of God's
Total Forgiveness available through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There are
three elements involved in this almost unbelievable process of
forgiveness--the Savior, the Sinner, and the Salvation.
I. THE SAVIOR
Verse 15, "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. . ." The
salvation plan begins first with Christ. Total Forgiveness must begin with
a Savior. We must have someone available who can give complete total
forgiveness and Paul says that Savior is Christ Jesus.
1. "Christ Jesus"
His name, "Christ Jesus," gives us two important truths about Him. First,
He is called the "Christ," which is the New Testament word for Messiah. It
means the Anointed One, the one singled out for a specific task, the
Chosen One. In the Old Testament we find that the Messiah or Christ was
the one that the Jewish nation was waiting for, the one chosen by God the
Father for their deliverance. But what was He chosen and anointed to do?
His name "Jesus" tells us the second truth. Matthew declares to us in his
book, chapter 1 verse 21, "that an angel appeared to Joseph and said that
Mary his wife was pregnant with child through the Holy Spirit and that she
was going, 'to give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus,
because He will save His people from their sins.'" The name Jesus is the
Greek form of the Hebrew word Joshua, which means, "the Lord saves," or
more literally, "Jehovah is salvation." Jesus was anointed to save people
from their sins.
2. "Came into the world"
Jesus "came into the world," and He is the only man who "came into the
world." You and I and every other man and woman, "came not into the world
but we came from the world!" We did not exist in heaven before we were
born and then were "beamed down" to the earth for our birth, as some cults
teach. No, the Bible tells us that, "the first man (Adam) was of the dust
of the earth. . .but the second man (Jesus) was from heaven." (1Cor 15:47).
We were formed from the elements of the earth, and only began to exist as a
person at the moment of conception. But Jesus existed before He was born!
Jesus is the Eternal God. John's gospel declares, "In the beginning was
the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God
in the beginning. . .The Word became flesh and lived for a while among us."
(John 1:1-3,14). He always was God and always will be! He has existed
from eternity past and will continue to exist in eternity future. When He
came into the world He was still 100% God and yet also became 100% man.
3. "To Save"
Christ Jesus put on the flesh of man to save sinners. Jesus came
willingly, for in the Book of Philippians 2:5 it says, "Christ Jesus: who
being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to
be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness." What that means is that Jesus, who is God,
did not consider being equal to God something to clutch to. He willingly
put on human flesh to be our redeemer. Have you ever thought why Jesus had
to become a man to save us? Why couldn't He just have pronounced us
"saved" from His heavenly throne? The answer is that God was wronged when
man sinned, and man had to pay the punishment for offending a Holy and
Righteous God. Since man sinned, then only man could pay the punishment to
God. Jesus had to become a man to pay our debt of sin to God. (Romans 5).
II. THE SINNER
1. Definition of Sin
The Bible says sin is lawlessness (1John 3:4) Sin is disobeying or
ignoring God's Law. Sin is living as if there were no God and no Law. It
is not being bound by the standards of God; it is living on your own
terms. In our day we would best describe sin as, "Doing your own thing!"
Doing what we want to do instead of what God wants us to do. God gives us
the standard of the Law and if we don't obey or meet that command
perfectly, then we are guilty of sin. Does everyone sin? Oh yes. Paul
told us in Romans that, "All have sinned and fall short of the Glory of
God." What is the punishment for sin? Death! Both physical and
spiritual. In other words, as a result of man's sin we all are dying
physically. Some of us are further along than others, but we are all
dying. But an even greater punishment comes after death, when all
unredeemed sinners are thrown into Hell, where there is "weeping and
gnashing of teeth," according to Matthew 13:42. For just one sin man is
condemned to physical death and an endless eternity of torment and agony.
Each additional sin he commits simply adds to the amount of suffering and
torment he will endure for all eternity.
But, Praise be to God for the Good News of the Gospel! Christ Jesus came
into the world the world to save sinners.
Now, all that has been stated so far Timothy would have known and praised
God for. It would not have been a truth that he would have doubted or have
a hard time accepting. Yet, Paul stated that Timothy would have a hard
time believing what he was going to tell him. What was so unbelievable? I
believe it was the very next statement of Paul, "Of whom I am the worst!"
(verse 15). That's it! Paul said to Timothy what he knew Timothy would
have a hard time accepting--that of all the sinners that Christ came to
save, which by the way, is all sinners, Paul says that he is the chief one
or the worst one! The Worst One! We can understand why this is hard to
believe. For Paul is an Apostle, a chosen workman of Christ. At the time
of the writing of this epistle, Timothy had probably known the redeemed
Paul for about twenty years, had traveled with him, taught with him,
learned from him, and had modeled himself after him to the point where
Paul could call him his "true child in the faith." Paul is the one most
people would consider to be the greatest Apostle in the New Testament. He
certainly wrote more of the New Testament books than anyone else. How
could this same man also claim to be the worst sinner of all time? Yet he
says it two times, once in verse 15 and again in verse 16, when he says, "I
was shown mercy so that in me," and here it is, "the worst of sinners. . ."
Now when we think of great sinners, we tend to think of such people as
Hitler, or King Herod, who gave orders to kill all the baby boys in
Bethlehem who were two years and under, in order to try to kill the baby
Jesus, or we may think of our contemporaries who have committed great sins
against our society. Perhaps we think of all the rapists, murderers and
abortionists. We probably would not think of the Apostle Paul. But Paul
is saying that of all who have lived on this earth or will live here until
the last day, he, Paul, was and is the worst sinner. Is Paul really saying
this or does he only think he is the worst? Let's start in the 3rd chapter
of the Book of Philippians, verses 5 and 6, where Paul speaks of himself as
being, ". . .circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the
tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee;
as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness,
faultless." In other words, Paul was from the right nation, of the right
tribe, of the most religious order, a Pharisee, the elite of the Jewish
religious community, and most of all, he kept all the law perfectly! How
can such a man be history's worst sinner? Part of our answer lies in the
claim that he was a Pharisee. Look at what the Bible says concerning
Mat 3:7 John the Baptist called them a brood of vipers.
Mat 9:34 The Pharisees accused Jesus of driving out demons by the prince
Mat 12:2 The Pharisees accuse Jesus of breaking the Sabbath.
Mat 12:14 The Pharisees plotted how they might kill Jesus.
Mat 12:38 Jesus referred to them as a wicked and adulterous generation.
Mat 15:3 Jesus accused them of breaking the command of God for the sake of
Mat 15:14 Jesus called them blind guides.
Mat 22:15 The Pharisees laid plans to trap Jesus in His words.
Mat 22:18 Jesus calls them hypocrites.
Mat 23:27 Jesus calls them whitewashed tombs full of dead men's bones and
Mat 23:33 Jesus says to them, "You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will
you escape being condemned to hell?"
In other words, the Pharisees of Paul's day were a group of outwardly
religious Jews, but who were also actively opposing Jesus and were inwardly
devoid of true spiritual life, sinners in every way. Paul would probably
have been involved in these types of activities, as he tells us in the book
of Acts that he was advancing in Judaism ahead of his contemporaries
because of his zeal. Additional evidence of Paul's sinfulness is found in
the book of Romans where Paul, recognizing his own sinfulness says,
". . .sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in
me every kind of covetous desire." (Romans 7:8).
But the heart of Paul's claim to being the worst sinner seems to lie in his
attitude and behavior towards Christ. In 1st Timothy, chapter 1, Paul
gives us further insight into his life of sin before salvation. Verse 13,
". . .I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man. . ."
Paul as a blasphemer spoke evil, injurious remarks against Jesus Christ and
Christians. Who did Paul persecute? The answer is in Acts Chapter 8,
Verse 3, which says, "But Saul (that was his name before conversion), began
to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and
women and put them in prison." In Acts 26:9-11 Paul says, "I was
convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of
Jesus of Nazareth. And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the
authority of the chief priest I put many of the saints in prison, and when
they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. Many a time I went
from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force
them to blaspheme. In my obsession against them, I even went to foreign
cities to persecute them." Paul mentions his persecution of the church in
four separate accounts, twice in the book of Acts, once in Galatians, and
once here in 1st Timothy, always in the context of being his most heinous
crime against God.
So Paul's big sin was trying to destroy the "Bride of Christ" (the
Church!). He was bent on wiping Christianity from the face of the earth.
In Acts 26:14 Jesus said to Paul as he traveled that Damascus road, "Saul,
Saul, why do you persecute Me?" In persecuting the Church Paul was
directly attacking the person of Jesus Christ.
Most Bible scholars look at this passage as Timothy must have been tempted
to, in that they don't believe that Paul really was the worst sinner of all
time. Most of them believe that Paul only "thought" he was the worst
sinner, that he simply saw his past sins more clearly as he drew nearer to
Christ in his Christian walk. However, Paul's repetition here in Timothy
of his status and his emphasis on his great sin in four separate
testimonies refute this view. Paul's wording here is emphatic that he was
and is (present tense) the worst of sinners.
Note that even though Paul used the present tense it cannot mean that he is
now committing the worst sins, because he was a holy and godly preacher of
righteousness, whose own writing demand criteria of holiness for anyone who
aspires to the ministry. No, even Paul states that he was shown mercy
(past tense), because of his sinfulness. How do these two statements
blend? It is simple. Suppose a young man ran a three minute mile. Surely
he would be the world's record holder for running the mile. Now, 70 years
later, when the man is now 90 years old, we find that the record is still
unbroken. Is he still the world's fastest man on record? Does he (present
tense) hold the world record for the mile run? Of course, the answer is
yes. Even though he couldn't run very far, he is still the world's record
holder for the mile. So also Paul, even though he has been saved and made
into a new person, still holds the world record for sins. And therefore he
could honestly state, "I am presently the worst sinner in the world!" That
is, "I presently hold the world's record for sin."
I believe that the error of the Bible Commentators has been caused by not
looking closely at the rest of the verse. Paul states that, "for the very
reason (that he was the worst sinner) he was shown mercy, so that in him
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."
Do you see the clear evidence that Paul was, indeed, the worst sinner of
all time? Paul makes two important statements, one, that because he was
the worst sinner, he was shown mercy. In other words, Christ chose Paul to
save because he was the worst sinner. Jesus was looking for the worst
sinner of all time and a person who only thought he was the worst would not
suffice. And second, Jesus wanted to save the worst sinner in history
because He wanted to use him as an example to the unbelieving world of
God's unlimited patience toward man!
There is no one too wicked for God to save. This verse gives clear
evidence that anyone can be saved because the worst sinner has been saved.
Anyone else is a lesser sinner than Paul. Yes, Hitler or any other
criminal could have been saved by Christ, if he would have called upon the
name of the Lord. Now note carefully, if Paul was not the worst sinner
that ever lived, then the example of Christ's unlimited patience, would be
imperfect. How could Jesus hold up Paul to the unbelievers if Paul was not
the worst sinner of all time? Surely the one who was the worst sinner
would despair of salvation, for he would doubt God's ability or desire to
save him. But praise be to God--His word is true and the Apostle Paul is
and was the worst sinner in history.
We have so far seen the Savior who gives Total Forgiveness, and the Worst
Sinner that received the Total Forgiveness. Now let us look on the
Salvation of Total Forgiveness.
III. THE SALVATION
Verse 16 tells us that Christ showed Paul mercy because he was the worst
sinner that had ever lived. "Mercy" is not giving us what we deserve.
What do sinners deserve for their sins? The Bible says, "the wages of sin
is death." This is the same truth that was declared in the Garden of Eden,
when God told Adam and Eve that if they ate from the forbidden tree, then
they would surely die. The death mentioned here is really twofold, one is
physical death and the other spiritual death. When Adam and Eve sinned,
their bodies began to die. All of us, because we are humans, have shared
in the sin of Adam and are also experiencing the death process in our
bodies. But an even greater consequence of sin is spiritual death, where
both the bodies and the spirits will be cast into the eternal torment of
the fires of Hell. But praise be to God! Paul is our example of the worst
sinner receiving mercy, which means that he would not and did not
experience the fires of eternal torment. So, one aspect of salvation is
not going to Hell. Paul did not receive what he deserved; rather, he
2. Eternal Life
Verse 16 also says that Paul is an example of those who would receive
eternal life. Salvation brings us eternal life. It would be salvation if
we only escaped the fires of Hell and were to become dust in the universe.
I would rather cease to exist than suffer for all of eternity, but our
God's great Salvation, not only saves us from the endless punishment due
us, but also gives eternal bliss! There is no way we can imagine the agony
and torment of Hell. Even the worst suffering on earth would not even
register on the scale of Hell's torment. Likewise, the pleasures of Heaven
are not something we can imagine. Think of the most beautiful scene you
have seen in nature, or remember the greatest feeling of joy you have ever
felt on earth. Then remember that this world is under a curse from God
because of man's sin and that Heaven is unbelievable bliss. A bliss that
will never, never end!
3. New Earthly Life
Salvation, as presented in these verses, includes something else. It is
something for this age and is to be experienced right now in our daily
lives. We read in Ephesians Chapter 2, Verse 10, that, "we (who are saved)
are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God
prepared in advance for us to do." Paul is also our example of a sinner
who was saved unto good works.
In our text we see that Paul was cleansed of his sins at conversion,
totally forgiven and made so spotlessly pure that God could use him
mightily in the ministry of the Church! He held the highest position in
the Church, an Apostle! He was an Evangelist, Church Planter,
Pastor/Teacher, and Author of Scripture. Paul, the worst of sinners! What
a powerful message about the Incredible Forgiveness of God. The true
definition of Divine Forgiveness is God treating the sinner as if he had
never committed any wrong: we see that dynamic in Paul's life here.
1. For the Unbelievers
If you have never asked Jesus for forgiveness of your sins, then know that
you stand guilty before God today. If you are like Paul was, a religious
person, a member of the right group or church, doing all the right things,
but have never really yielded to God's control of your life, then know that
you are clearly condemned to Hell, to be separated from God and His people
for all eternity. But also know that Jesus Christ is offering complete
and total forgiveness for your sins. It matters not what you have done.
There are no sins that you have committed that Jesus cannot or will not
forgive. Jesus says to you, "Look at Paul! Look at Paul!" The worst
sinner has been saved so you would have encouragement. Come receive
salvation from Christ, and let Him cleanse you on the inside. Let Him
restore you, make your life over, and use you without restriction in the
ministry of His Church, to reach the lost world.
Perhaps you still think that you have committed too many sins, that God
will turn away from you because you are too wicked. Know that even if you
are or were a murderer, a homosexual, a drug addict, guilty of the blood of
an abortion, a thief, a liar, a prostitute, a slanderer, a hypocrite, a
child molester, a drunkard, a wife beater, an arsonist, divorced many
times, or whatever--you can still be saved and made pure and useful! LOOK
AT PAUL! HE IS OUR EXAMPLE OF CHRIST'S UNLIMITED PATIENCE AND TOTAL
FORGIVENESS. God promises that if you come to Him in repentance and faith
that He will receive you, forgive you, and restore you to Himself to know
Him and serve Him. Won't you come?
2. For the Believers
If you are a Christian, you might ask how does this apply to me since I am
already saved? Let me suggest four ways to apply this to your life:
A. BE THANKFUL TO GOD
Thank God that He was willing to save all sinners, even the
worst. Thank Him that Christ came into the world to save
sinners. Thank Him for His unlimited patience with sinners.
Thank Him for your own salvation. Glorify Him with your praise.
B. BE USEFUL TO GOD
Realize that there are no limits for how God can use you in the
ministry of His Church. Your sins are forgiven. You have been
made clean and your sins have been "FORGOTTEN!" God is treating
you as if you never committed them. Make yourself available for
His use in whatever ways He sees fit.
C. BE IMITATORS OF GOD
We as part of our own churches, must act towards redeemed sinners
as God does. We can show no prejudice to anyone because of their
past sins. There are many evangelical, fundamental churches in
our country that greatly restrict the ministry of certain
Christians because of some past sin. This should never be
because God forgave and forgot all of our sins when we became
Christians. Paul continues to be our example of Christ's
unlimited patience and of His willingness to use even the worst
sinner as one of the greatest leaders in the Church. Jesus
closed the door on any future discussion about past sin having a
restrictive effect on Church service through Paul's example.
Recently I talked with the Pastor of a large Baptist Church
about the spiritual qualifications for leadership as found in 1
Timothy, because his Church was looking for a Youth Pastor. I
asked if they would consider a man who had a divorce in his past
before salvation. He said they would not. I asked if they would
consider a man who, before salvation, was guilty of the sin of
murder? He again replied that they would never consider such a
person. I asked if they would consider an application from a man
who, as a Christian, had committed the sin of adultery but had
repented of it and had walked in obedience to the Lord in his
current lifestyle. Again the answer was no. Under this type of
thinking the Apostle Paul would have been precluded from
ministry; King David would not have been allowed to interview
for the position because of his previous sin of adultery, not to
mention murder, as a Christian; Moses would also have been
disqualified to minister because of his sin of murder, also
committed as a Christian. We must remember that when God
forgives a persons sin, it is gone and He never brings it up
D. BE HERALDS OF GOD.
Share these truths with your unsaved neighbors and loved ones.
We live in a society of great sinfulness. As individuals we are
each guilty before God and as a nation we stand accused before
Him of many grave sins. Each year over 2,000,000 little babies
are murdered under the legalized act of abortion. Pornography
has continued to spread like a plague which is infecting the
minds of the people. Wife and child abuse continues to deal
devastating blows to the lives of millions. Alcoholism and
drunkenness take their toll not only on our highways, but in our
homes and families as well. Homosexuality is presented as an
alternate lifestyle, when in fact it is detestable to God. Drug
use continues to trap our people into addiction and deludes them
into a false reality. Murder abounds in our land and the
murderer is often set free within a few years. We are a nation
guilty before God. But God has demonstrated through Paul that He
is a God of mercy toward sinners, even the worst of sinners. God
offers Total Forgiveness for all sin. This truth aligns with
those most often quoted verses on God's great capacity to
forgive and forget sin:
Heb 8:12 "I will forgive their wickedness and will remember
their sins no more."
Psalm 103:12 "As far as the east is from the west, so far has He
removed our transgression from us."
Micah 7:19 ". . .You will tread all our sins underfoot and hurl
all our iniquities into the depths of the sea."
Isaiah 38:17 ". . .You have put all my sins behind your back."
Total Forgiveness from God means that He makes us into new
persons and He promises to treat us as if we never committed the
offense against Him. Praise God for such abounding Love.
Bible Bulletin Board
Galveston, IN 46932
Modem (317) 452-1535
July 6, 1986
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