I am a football fan and have been as long as I can remember. My family moved to Dallas when I was entering the third grade in 1966, and I have been a Dallas Cowboys fan ever since. As much as I like watching professional football, I like college and high school games even more. I’ve sat in plenty of stadiums on Friday nights in my life, although that has slowed down a bit in recent years. Nowadays, I tend to watch games on television on Saturdays.
While I’m a fan of the game, I could do without most of the announcers. I dislike how one of them will coin a term or phrase and then suddenly every sportscaster feels the need to start using it. Terms like “athleticism” and “physicality.” Last weekend every game I watched had someone talking about “playing behind the chains.” But the most overused phrase, in my humble opinion, is “one of the best.” After a player makes a good tackle, they will say, “He is one of the best linebackers in the league.” A quarterback completes a long pass and they say, “He has one of the best arms in the game today.” Every game you will hear the announcers say that a player in that game is “one of the best” at something.
I don’t think I have ever heard them describe a player as being “one of the worst.” That probably would not help ratings or that announcer’s status the next time he tried to interview that player. It is not praise, false or sincere, to call someone “one of the worst.” We would all rather be told we are “one of the best” whether it is true or not. Well, almost always.
When the apostle Paul wrote to a young pastor named Timothy, he included these words: “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” (1 Timothy 1:15 NIV84) The word translated “worst” in the NIV is actually the word that designates someone as number one or first place. The ESV renders this verse, “…Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” The KJV said, “of whom I am the chief.”
As unflattering as it sounds, Paul was claiming to be not just “one of the best” sinners, but the number one sinner of all. And he was not claiming to be better in the sense of not being as bad as all the other sinners. On the contrary, Paul knew the evil that he had done and the evil desires that continued to live in him (See Romans 7). And he accepted that about himself in light of the affirmation made in the first part of that verse: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”
God the father sent his very best, his only son, to take the place of sinners in punishment, paying all our penalties, and giving us complete pardon and peace with God. That is why you and I can happily say with Paul, “I’m one of the best sinners.” We know that Jesus came precisely for us.
Michael Mattil is the pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Denison. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.