This week we’ll finish with our study of what the Apostle Paul said about Christ’s birth. While Paul never wrote at length on the subject, he does tell us some things that are critical to understanding who Christ is and why He came. In 1 Timothy, Paul outlines the key doctrines Timothy needs to teach in order to combat the false ideas infiltrating the church in Ephesus. One of those doctrines explains the purpose for Christ’s birth.
It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.1 Timothy 1:15
Let’s break down this verse because once again, Paul tells us quite a bit in a very small space.
The Affirmation: It is a trustworthy statement, deserving of full acceptance
The introductory clause is used only in Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus. (It appears 5 times. Look for it when you read.) It notes a key doctrine for the beginning preachers to emphasize. When Paul uses it, he tells us something about our salvation (soteriology, remember). It means that what follows is a non-negotiable tenet of the Christian faith. In this case it is GOSPEL plain and simple. It the purpose for Christ’s coming.
The Purpose: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners
Paul likes this order, Christ Jesus, for Jesus’s name. It highlights the anointed King and Redeemer who became the man Jesus.
Christ came into the world. Paul also uses the same kind of language John uses to underscore Jesus’s pre-existence. He was with the Father, then He came into the world (see John 3:19, 9:39, 16:28 and others). Christ wasn’t born into existence the way the rest of us are. In Bethlehem, the angels announced, the shepherds witnessed the Incarnation of the eternal God.
To save sinners.
His purpose wasn’t to teach us the Word of God clearly. Although He did. His purpose wasn’t to show us how we are supposed to live. Even though He did that too. He didn’t come to heal the sick or raise the dead. He didn’t even come to reveal the religious hypocrisy so rampant His day. These are all good things, no question, but they pale in comparison to Christ’s true purpose in coming — to save sinners. He came to do the thing no one else could do. No one else could pay the debt we owed. Because of His great love, God protects us from His own wrath … by enduring it Himself though Christ. Sometimes, that fact is simply overwhelming.
The Reality: Sinners, among whom I am foremost of all
Paul wasn’t using false modesty to gain some sympathy points. On the contrary. He got it. He had spent enough time studying the Scriptures to see the holiness of God and the egregious violations we commit against Him. Paul’s statement comes from humility and deep, deep gratitude. God help us have that same attitude.
We’ve seen that through prophecy and the plan of God, there was a panacea made available to us. That was the purpose for Christ’s birth. For Paul, Christmas is the Gospel. But then, everything is the Gospel. May that Joy overtake us this Christmas and remain with us in the New Year!
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail th’ incarnate Deity,
Pleased as man with men to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel.
Charles Wesley, 1739