The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.1 Timothy 1:15-16
It was a normal small-group meeting, and we were sharing our prayer requests one by one. “Pray for health” . . . “for patience” . . . “for discipline in Bible reading.” Then it was Daniel’s turn. “Sorry to be super serious and depressing, but I’ve been really struggling lately. I’m not doing well.” He told us a few more details. We could feel his vulnerability. And all who shared after him felt permission and courage to be more vulnerable themselves.
Because of shame, many of us wear masks in our relationships and ministry. We put smiles on our faces to pretend we are doing better than we are. We conveniently omit certain details of our lives that reveal we are not as put-together as we’d like. We share only the prayer requests that feel safe and socially acceptable. We keep secrets about our pasts so we don’t come across as damaged goods. We try to maintain our image as the picture-perfect couple or family, when behind closed doors we aren’t. We put forth an image of happiness, strength, competence, or righteousness. Some of us have sophisticated image-management strategies.
Yet in today’s passage, the apostle Paul does the opposite. He is transparent about his most grievous failings. He doesn’t pretend his shameful past didn’t happen. He doesn’t announce all his strengths and impressive accomplishments. He acknowledges himself to be not only a sinner but the foremost of sinners—the worst of the worst. Yet he does it knowing that his honesty serves as a beautiful testimony of Christ’s patience and mercy.
What if part of loving others means allowing them to see the areas of our lives that we often try to hide? What if we follow Paul’s lead here? When we share honestly, we create space for other broken, discouraged sinners and sufferers to be honest about their struggles. And our vulnerability becomes a means of displaying the love and worthiness of Christ, who renews our hearts, redeems the broken parts of our lives, and through it all displays his heart of mercy and patience.
Whenever I read Paul’s words “sinners, of whom I am the foremost,” I always respond with an unspoken “Me too.” His words give me permission to acknowledge my own struggles. What would it be like if our churches were characterized less by hiding and pretending and more by the honesty that creates space to say, “Me too”? What if our families and communities could be marked by honest confession of sin, by candid expression of emotion and wrestlings—so we could struggle . . . together? And so, through it all, the glories of Christ’s mercy could be on full display?
- Reflect: Have you ever experienced honesty from someone else about their struggles and found encouragement and strength? Why did it make a difference to you? What do you take away from that experience?
- Act: God doesn’t ask us to disclose our deepest, darkest secrets to everyone. But he invites us not to deny and cover over the broken parts of our lives. Prayerfully consider how he might be inviting you toward honesty—how your story may serve as a testimony to create space for other strugglers to be honest too. Ask God and trusted loved ones for counsel and wisdom.
*This post is a chapter excerpt from the 31-day devotional, Shame: Being Known and Loved by Esther Liu.