“To me, the least of all the saints, was given this grace: to proclaim the good news of the fathomless riches of Christ to the Gentiles,” LEB
“the least of all saints”
Paul considered himself the “least of all saints” because he considered himself the “chief” of sinners (NKJV). He tells us why in 1 Cor 15:9:
“For I am the least of the apostles, not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” LEB
Paul regarded himself the “least of all saints” and the “chief” of sinners and unworthy “to be called an apostle” because he “persecuted the church of God.” He goes into detail about that persecution in the book of Acts:
“9 Indeed, I myself thought it was necessary to do many [things] opposed to the name of Jesus the Nazarene, 10 which I also did in Jerusalem, and not only did I lock up many of the saints in prison, having received authority from the chief priests, but also [when] they were being executed, I cast [my] vote against [them]. 11 And throughout all the synagogues I punished them often [and] tried to force [them] to blaspheme, and [because I] was enraged at them beyond measure, I was pursuing [them] even as far as to foreign cities.” LEB (Acts 26:9-11)
He makes another confession about that to Timothy:
“[although I] was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, but I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief,” LEB (1 Tim 1:13)
Paul felt extreme unworthiness as a Christian and as an Apostle because of the havoc he created in the Church before he came to faith in Christ. He looked back on those days with deep shame and regret. What’s interesting about this whole thing, is that he makes another statement about himself after his confession in 1 Cor 15:9 that reveals another side of him:
“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been in vain, but I labored even more than all of them, and not I, but the grace of God with me.” LEB (1 Cor 15:10)
While Paul viewed his past with deep shame and regret, he also acknowledged his faithfulness in his service to Christ (by the grace of God).
There’s something I want you to get out of this that I pray God will use in your life to encourage you. Paul went from being the chief of sinners to working harder than any of the other Apostles. That’s an extreme shift in his life. Why do suppose Paul worked so hard for the cause of Christ? I think Paul gives us a hint about that in all of the confessions he made about his past.
I believe Paul’s sense of shame about how he persecuted the Church was so great, that he spent the rest of his life trying to make up for it. I further think this is something he shared with the Apostle Peter. Peter denied his Lord and Savior three times. That was after walking with Him for three years. During that time he was taught many wonderful things by Jesus, and was shown to be who He claimed to be by mighty miracles. Yet, he still denied Him. Three times. That’s one denial of Christ for every year that he walked with Him.
I believe both Paul and Peter lived with enormous shame and regret because of what they did. I think their past was ever before them. And because of that, I believe they both spent the rest of their lives trying to make up for it. History tells us that Peter didn’t even feel worthy enough to be crucified right-side up, but requested to be crucified upside down.
While they knew they were forgiven and needed to rest in God’s grace, and while they knew they were to forget the past and live in the present with eternity in view (Phil 3:12,13,14), I nevertheless believe their past failures motivated them. I believe they allowed those things to produce something positive in their lives, to encourage faithfulness and fruit in their walk and service to Christ.
We should never underestimate the value of a Christian who is motivated by the sins and failures of their past, whether those sins are as Christians, or sins committed before faith in Christ. It’s easy to forget the sins of our pre-conversion past, but it’s not so simple to forget the sins we commit as Christians. Furthermore, other Christians have a hard time looking beyond the past sins of others that were committed as Christians. Regardless of where a Christian may be now in their walk with Christ, I think many of us have a hard time seeing them apart from their disgraceful past.
Christians who do things and make decisions that dishonor the name of Christ, tend to be seen, not for where they are now in their walk, but where they used to be. Once we lose our testimony for Christ, it’s really difficult to get it back. While God is wonderfully forgiving, we as Christians have long memories. It shouldn’t be that way. Not only should we forgive ourselves and move on in faithfulness, but other Christians should fully accept those who have repented in deep remorse, and now living for God’s glory.
Again, we shouldn’t make the mistake of underestimating the value of a Christian who lives with true shame because of the way they dishonored the name of Christ in their past. I think if the truth were known, we would discover them to be among the most sincere followers of Christ in the Christian community. And while some may no longer be qualified to serve as Pastors or elders, they should be given every opportunity to serve in their local assembly. They could well be among the most faithful among us.
I think the following words of Christ summarizes this discussion well:
“Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.” NKJV (Luke 7:47)
“to proclaim the good news of the fathomless riches of Christ”
As Paul was given grace to preach the good news about Christ, so have the rest of us. Paul had a passion for the lost, and so should we. We should care for the lost as Jesus did. What we say, and how we live our lives should be the good news. Not only should we be faithful to share the message of Christ in words, but the way we live our lives should be the message of Christ. Our whole lives should point to the Lord Jesus Christ.
The grace and power to serve Christ and to share the good news with others, is always available. As we yield ourselves to the Holy Spirit in faith, He will grant us the enabling grace that we need. As we are walking in the Spirit, He will give us both the opportunity to share our faith, and the grace and power to do it. May all of us be sensitive and watchful for those situations.