1 Tim 3:14-16 | 1 Tim 6:11-16
vs.14 “I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, vs.15 if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth. vs.16 Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.” (1 Tim 3:14-16 ESV)
I was praying during the night in Myanmar about what to preach the next morning and had a sense the Lord was speaking about “great things”; this passage with its language of “great we confess/testify” came to mind.
Keen Christians everywhere love to give testimony about God’s great acts in their lives.
Every week in Perth Prayer we have someone give such a testimony. This is usually very God-glorifying, but occasionally the centre of the testimony is the person’s own experience and ministry.
It’s easy to forget that “The story is not our story with a role for Christ. The story is Christ’s story with roles for us.” (R. Jenson).
The power of today’s reading is that its an extremely concentrated summary of key phases in the life of Jesus. And it is to the life of Jesus that we must relentlessly turn again and again.
This has been impressed on my soul in an indelible way which I believe has forever shaped my identity.
I will never forget some comments from Geoff Bingham when he was over in Perth for a conference. He’d just had a conversation with one of my students who remarked, “All of John’s students are afraid of him.” Geoff said to me, “I think it’s because you speak of great things.”; and all the things of Christ are the greatest things.
vs.14 “I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that”
Paul longed to see Timothy face to face, but in the meantime sent a letter, as he did to all the churches, to communicate to them how they should live. And our manner of life will flow from what we understand of the behaviour of God towards us in Christ1)Eph 4:32 ESV; Phil 2:5-13 ESV; 1 John 4:19 ESV etc..
(vs.14 … so that), vs.15 if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.
This passage opens with a very exalted view of the Church. We are “the household of God”, that is, God’s family, for he is our one Father (Eph 4:6 ESV).
We are “the church of the living God”. Someone came forward for prayer a few nights before I preached this sermon asking to know the living God.
The “living God” doesn’t bear the name Buddha, or Allah or in Paul’s time the name of one of the pagan gods (cf. 1 Cor 8:4-6 ESV).
The “living God” is exclusively and exhaustively defined by his activity in the life of Jesus. So we prayed for this searcher that he come to know Christ! The Christ, that is, of which Paul is about to testify.
To call the Church “a pillar and buttress of the truth” means that it holds up the standard of truth in the world.
There’s nothing more secure in this world than the truth lived out by the Church and human beings crave security.
I remember being in Uganda on the second story of a building during a rain storm, my African companion was quite anxious because he rightly understood that such buildings quite commonly collapse in that part of the world because they’re not properly constructed.
The Church is a spiritual building that must be constructed on the foundation only of Christ (1 Cor 3:11 ESV). Since the Christian community holds a central place in presenting the truth of God in the world it’s no surprise that false teaching inside the Church is a never-ending problem e.g.2)Matt 24:11 ESV; Acts 20:30 ESV; 2 Cor 11:13 ESV; 1 Tim 4:1 ESV ff., 2 Pet 2:1 ESV.
In recent years under pressure from the LGBT+ lobby an increasing number of Evangelical scholars have swung around to support committed homosexual relationships and same sex marriage claiming its compatible with the Bible. These are false witnesses under the power of the devil.
Pilate sceptically asked Jesus a question which our cynical society might ask today, ““What is truth?”” (John 18:38 ESV). As a young man I thought in every way that I was an earnest “seeker after truth” and that’s what led me to read the Bible and come to Christ.
But it took me a long time to realise truth isn’t a set of accurate ideas but a Person, Jesus. As he said, ““I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”(John 14:6 ESV).
Or as Paul comments, “the truth is in Jesus” (Eph 4:21 ESV), and so quite remarkably, “the truth of Christ is in me” (2 Cor 11:10 ESV).
In the context of our passage the shape of the life of Christ which Paul will expound is the Truth about humanity and its relationship with God. The confession of verse 16 is a confession of ultimate truthfulness.
vs.16 “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:”
The cry “Allahu akbar / God is the greatest.” arises billions of times daily across the earth.
I recall being in a part of Cairo when the hills surrounding a church funnelled these words from numerous loud speakers on minarets all calling out the same thing at once- it was almost a hypnotic experience.
For the followers of Jesus the greatness of God isn’t located pre-eminently in the power of God as Creator-Judge but in the humanity of the Son of God who was great enough to humble himself in becoming human, to live, die on a cross, and, for us, return as a human into the eternal glory of God (John 17:5 ESV).
“we confess”, confession here means to testify in some pubic way. Preaching, teaching and prophesying in the Church, evangelism in the world, holding fast (Phil 2:16 ESV) to the truth about Jesus when on trial or persecuted are all forms of confession.
“mystery” is an important word in the New Testament, especially in Paul3)Rom 16:25-26 ESV; 1 Cor 2:7 ESV; 4:1; Eph 1:9 ESV; 3:3-9 ESV; 6:19 ESV; Col 1:26-27 ESV; 2:2; 4:3 ESV. It always means something once hidden in God but now revealed in the coming of Jesus Christ.
The revelation of the mystery especially involves the inclusion of the nations/Gentiles in the saving plan of God. We non-Jews now take our salvation for granted, but for ages you had to belong to Israel to be saved.
“godliness” in the New testament4)1 Tim 4:7-8 ESV; 1 Tim 6:3, 6, 11 ESV; Tit 1:1 ESV; 2 Pet 1:3, 6 ESV; 2 Pet 3:11 ESV never happens in private but is a form of life that can be seen by others.
It means visibly sharing in the shape of the perfectly God-like life of Jesus (John 14:9 ESV)!
Paul most famously expounded this godliness in the Christ hymn of Philippians 2:5-11 ESV which speaks of the emptying, suffering and exaltation of Jesus. He is about to cover the same territory here but more briefly.
“manifested in the flesh” points to the Incarnation; “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14 ESV).
What sort of flesh did the eternal Son of God become? Jesus himself said, “the flesh is useless” (John 6:63 ESV), powerless in itself to bring about God’s will.
Jesus had to become this wretched flesh in order to destroy it; vs.3 “… God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh” (Rom 8:3 ESV).
Jesus was fully identified with us in our weakened depraved humanity, “in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15 ESV).
Jesus was not a super man with super powers, but a humble sinless human being filled with the Holy Spirit (Matt 12:28 ESV). In this context “manifested in the flesh” includes its crucifixion.
“vindicated by the Spirit” says something immeasurably important. As a reference to the resurrection of Jesus in the power of the Spirit (Rom 1:4 ESV) it reveals that Jesus was perfectly in the right with God, that is, “justified”.
Whereas the highest human powers condemned Jesus as a blasphemer, criminal and trouble-maker worthy of death the tribunal of God declared Jesus to be innocent of any sin and perfectly righteous by raising him from the dead (Isa 53:11 ESV).
Romans 4 sums up what this all means for us, “Jesus our Lord… was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” (Romans 4:25 ESV)
The resurrection of Jesus is the content our justification and his risen glory is our peace with God (cf. Rom 5:1 ESV).
This means there can be no degrees of justification in Christ.
The fulness of the revelation of our justification with Jesus awaits own resurrection with him at the Last Judgement; vs.20 “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, vs.21 who will transform four lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” (Phil 3:20-21 ESV). In the meantime, we live by faith.
“seen by angels” most likely refers to the ascension of Jesus into heaven. vs.9 “And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. vs.10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes,vs.11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”” (Acts 1:9-11 ESV).
The ascension involves Christ being taken up into the highest position of honour, power and authority at the Father’s right hand5)Mark 14:62 ESV; Heb 1:3 ESV; Heb 8:1 ESV. Angels are witnesses to the Lord’s majesty and victory and assist us to confess our faith.
“proclaimed among the nations” refers to the ongoing gospel proclamation in the world. It is what Paul committed his life to. Bringing Christ to others is central to our confession.
“believed on in the world” doesn’t refer to some sort of “nominal” Christianity, like the Australia of the 1950’s in which I grew up when nearly everyone would say they were a “Christian”. It means deep full-hearted trust in Christ as Saviour and Lord.
“taken up in glory” points to Jesus’ permanent position at the right hand of God. This was the highlight of my recent preaching on the martyrdom of Stephen in Acts 7. It is as he is fearlessly confessing the greatness of Christ, that “he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55 ESV).
This glory isn’t the glory of the earthly Jesus, or even of the Jesus who conversed with the disciples after this resurrection, but his eternal radiance in heaven.
Stephen’s revelation of Christ “taken up in glory” follows on from the fact that, as Paul puts it later in 1 Timothy, the original confession is made by Jesus himself, “Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession” (1 Tim 6:13 ESV). Stephen shared, as we all can, in the greatness of Christ the Testifier.
“Great things” is the medium in which all Christians live. For Jesus said, ““Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12 ESV).
The key to doing these “greater works” is not to focus on the works but the fact that Jesus has gone to the Father.
For us Jesus himself put it, ““You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.”” (John 14:28 ESV)
Human beings were always created for great things, not the limited things of this world nor the mystical Nirvana or Paradise of other religions, but the truly great thing made real in the life of the God-man Jesus.
To speak out and live out the truth of Jesus is our destiny and the purpose of the Church as “the pillar and buttress of the truth”.
To lose sight of these things is the explanation for the weakness of so much of contemporary Church life. How can this change?
C.S. Lewis once said its not about great faith in God but faith in a great God.
In like manner we should not seek to possess a great vision, as many church leaders do, but to receive a revelation of the greatness of Christ.
Then we will invariably confess “great things” in the Spirit because such marvels will have laid hold of us (cf. 2 Cor 5:14 ESV).
Rightly said, “Do you not know…what God’s estimate of the gospel is? Do you not know that it has been the chief subject of His thoughts and acts from all eternity? He looks on it as the grandest of all His works” (Charles Spurgeon)
As we do confess such “great things” our lives, by action and reaction, praise, persecution and perseverance will be transformed to become more and more like the Jesus to whom we testify6)Rev 1:2, 6, 9 ESV; Rev 12:17 ESV; Rev 19:10 ESV.
1 Timothy 3:16 ESV expounds the shape of a godly life, Jesus’ life.
For us, some of this is future, awaiting our resurrection, but what is the decision of our life today?
Are there parts of our lives where we live like “nominal” believers, or are we going deeper and deeper into glory.
The one who when on trial himself made “the good confession” (1 Tim 6:13 ESV) and never regretted it can help us become more and more like him.
“To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Col 1:27 ESV)
MESSAGE DELIVERED: 16th. December, 2018 Location: Alive@5
Author: Dr. John Yates
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References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Eph 4:32 ESV; Phil 2:5-13 ESV; 1 John 4:19 ESV etc.|
|2.||↑||Matt 24:11 ESV; Acts 20:30 ESV; 2 Cor 11:13 ESV; 1 Tim 4:1 ESV ff., 2 Pet 2:1 ESV.|
|3.||↑||Rom 16:25-26 ESV; 1 Cor 2:7 ESV; 4:1; Eph 1:9 ESV; 3:3-9 ESV; 6:19 ESV; Col 1:26-27 ESV; 2:2; 4:3 ESV|
|4.||↑||1 Tim 4:7-8 ESV; 1 Tim 6:3, 6, 11 ESV; Tit 1:1 ESV; 2 Pet 1:3, 6 ESV; 2 Pet 3:11 ESV|
|5.||↑||Mark 14:62 ESV; Heb 1:3 ESV; Heb 8:1 ESV|
|6.||↑||Rev 1:2, 6, 9 ESV; Rev 12:17 ESV; Rev 19:10 ESV|