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Chief of Sinners Though I Be

by | Oct 22, 2022 | God's Love, Salvation, Witnessing

“Chief of sinners though I be, Jesus shed His blood for me,
Died that I might live on high, lives that I might never die.
As the branch is to the vine, I am His, and He is mine.
Oh, the height of Jesus’ love, higher than the heav’ns above,
Deeper than the depths of sea, lasting as eternity!
Love that found me—wondrous thought! Found me when I sought Him not.”

(“Chief of Sinners Though I Be,” which is number 611 in the Lutheran Service Book.)

“Chief of sinners.” It is not the kind of information we would include on a job application. We might discuss our personal background, education, and achievements, while tactfully omitting the summary of our sinful condition. Sinfulness aside, the apostle Paul had an impressive résumé. He was born into God’s covenant people of Israel and educated in Jerusalem by the well-known rabbi Gamaliel. Paul was a Pharisee, zealous for the Law of God. Yet the apostle considers all of his accomplishments as just so much rubbish because he knew something better: “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8a ESV).

Paul considered himself a living object lesson on the love of God in Christ Jesus. The apostle describes himself as the “chief,” or “foremost,” of sinners: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Timothy 1:15b ESV). Paul had persecuted Jesus’ followers, imprisoning them and calling for the sentence of death against them. As the chief of sinners, he was a very unlikely candidate for apostleship. Paul thinks that he defines  what it means to be sinner. If you want to know what a sinner is like, the apostle says, look at me! Why would Jesus name this foremost of sinners as His chief ambassador? In calling such a sinner to be His apostle, Jesus displays “His perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in Him for eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:16b ESV).

We share Paul’s sinful credentials and each one of us could readily claim the title “chief of sinners.” We may be very religious and well-educated in the faith, but we still seek to put ourselves ahead of others, following our own selfish desires and turning from the ways and Word of God. Yet by God’s grace, like Paul, we have come to know “the height of Jesus’ love,” a love that is as “lasting as eternity.” We were not even seeking His love when Christ Jesus sought us out and shed His blood on the cross to wash away every last stain on our sinful résumés. Our crucified and risen Lord is “the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent” (Colossians 1:18b ESV). Jesus is foremost in glory and foremost in mercy. Each of us can say, “If you want to see a sinner, look at me, but if you want to know what a Savior is like, look to Jesus!”

Prayer: Jesus, in mercy You sought and found me. Help me to share that love with others. Amen.

This Daily Devotion was written by Dr. Carol Geisler. It is based on the hymn “Chief of Sinners Though I Be,” which is number 611 in the Lutheran Service Book.
Originally published in The Lutheran Hour on October 23, 2022
Used by permission from International Lutheran Laymen’s League, all rights reserved

Reflection Questions
1. Have you ever felt like the “chief of sinners”? Have you been able to turn this over to God?
2. What does Paul’s overcoming life of faith say for those who struggle with their pasts?
3. As we deepen in our faith, how can we retain a genuine humility before God and others?