Sunday, August 7, 2016

1 Timothy 3:14-16 “The Mystery of Godliness”

In the first three chapters of  Paul’s first letter to Timothy we have  seen Paul counselling Timothy, pastor of the church at Ephesus,   on  a number of  church related matters. They have an amazingly contemporary ring about them.  He counsels Timothy  on how he ought to deal  with false teaching in the church (1:3-7); he addresses   the role of the law (1:8—11), and  the gospel  (1:12-17). He  makes mention  of  the spiritual war in which every gospel minister and gospel church is involved  (1:18—0);  He reflects on the importance of prayer (2: 1-8) and  the role relationship between men and women in the local church (2: 8-15). In the 3rd chapter   Paul  deals with the matter of church leadership as it relates to the roles of elders (3:1-7) and  deacons (3: 8 -13). There’s a lot  which  Paul  says here.

Now as we come  to verses  14-16, Paul  pauses , and he tells  Timothy that he intends to  come back to  him at Ephesus from Macedonia (3:14; 4:13), presumably    to  be of further help  and  assistance to     Timothy in the difficult work of the church there. He says:  [14] “I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that,…”.  In the nature of things, and  in  terms of   circumstances and  travel time,  such commitments are not always easy to keep,  and so he tells  Timothy … [15] if I delay, I want you to know these two things :  
(i)  understand  the true  nature  of   the church 
(ii) understand the  true  nature  of the  great Saviour  of  the church  


…(that)  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. Paul uses  3  descriptions  to  describe  the nature of the church:

(i)              The  church is the household  (Gr. oikō Theou[1]) of God.  Paul often uses building metaphors for the church. In Ephesians 2, he calls  the church  “a temple not made with hands.” Peter  calls the individual members of the church “living stones  that are being built up as a spiritual house…” (1 Pet. 2:5)  We become members of God’s household   through the new birth. In this process, God becomes our Father[2] , Christ our Lord and   brother, and  every member of God’s  households are also called  brothers and sisters  in Christ.

(ii)                the church of the living God (Gr. ekklēsia Theou zōntos). “ We are the temple of the living  God”(2 Cor. 6:16).   “In Him you also  are  being built together  into a dwelling place  (i.e. a tabernacle) for God by the Spirit.” (Eph. 2:22) God is often called the living God in the OT, to make a deliberate contrast  with  the heathen, lifeless idols, who were created by the minds and hands of their worshippers.  Paul can  thus say of the Thessalonian Christians who had been converted  from such  pagan superstition   that  they “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.” (1Thess. 1:9).  The fact that  it is the  household of God,  and the church of  the living God, which indicates that  the church is  not ours, it's God's.  God's house, God’s church  belongs to God. And in God’s house we ought  to  behave according to God’s rules, and not in any way we please. Many issues that Timothy faces  in Ephesus  are  due to the  fact that various  people wanted to teach and organise the church  according to their own rules and  doctrines.  Has it ever occurred to you,  in thinking about the  design of the OT tabernacle /temple, that God never asked Moses for his own architectural  ideas and opinions?  God  gave Moses the entire  plan. He said to Moses: Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it.”  (Ex. 25:9).  Similarly, the church,  the  household  of God, which He  purchased  with His own blood is  not  a “do-as-you- please”  institution.  The church exists  by the Word of God.  So many of the problems in the local churches all over the world would be solved if  we  would understand  that  we are God's house and subject to God’s rules! In God’s house there shall,  according to apostolic  practise,  regular  attention  be given to the apostles doctrine, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and  to prayer (Acts 2:42). 7th day congregational   worship  remains in place[3]. Love[4] and unity[5]  must  remain central to  the church’s  being  and activity.  

The church of  the living God will be  exhibited in its purest form in heaven, and the writer to the Hebrews calls her  “the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven… the spirits of the righteous made perfect…”  (Hebr.12:23) How  awesome  is  the dwelling place of the living God of heaven and earth. That is the  church  which you are called to belong to!

(iii)             a pillar and buttress of the truth. (Gr. stulos  kai hedraiōma tēs alētheias). The stulos is a pillar or a column  which supports a platform  above, and the supports the pillar below. This kind of imagery must have spoken to Timothy, pastor of the church at  Ephesus, where  one of the 7 wonders of the world was found, the temple of Diana , otherwise known as the temple of Artemis.   It was  a massive construction  with  127 pillars, supporting the marble  roof structure.  Each of these  18 meter high  pillars were made of  marble,  and  decorated with  jewels and  gold.   This temple made a massive impression upon all who saw it. The stones  of the  temple in Jerusalem had  a similar effect [6]. The application is, I trust, apparent.  The church has received  a massive   foundation of truth, for all to see,  given by  the Tri-une God   to  the prophets of the OT and  to the apostles  of the NT, all sealed by the appearance  of  God’s supreme  and final  revelation of Himself in  the Lord Jesus Christ (Hebr. 1:1-3). The church itself is not the originator of the truth. The originator is God.  But  God has deposited the truth in His church by means of His Word. The church  thus serves as the pillar and support of the truth in the world.  The less the church does this in the world, the less the world sees of God’s  truth. She is  God's essential vehicle for the gospel  and for discipleship  and also for  the defense of the faith. We ought to be very concerned for the current  lack of truth  in the world.

In summary, we  need to  appreciate afresh the  weighty significance of the church. Unfortunately by  focussing  on matters that are not essential to  biblical church life, the church  in history has often  been reduced to a  petty minded group of self- absorbed men and women,  from whose lips and  lives  the massive truth of God in Christ  could  not be  seen or heard. I say it again :  The church is built on massive truth. She exists  for the glory of the massive,  infinite God, “who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light” (1 Tim 6:16). Brothers and sisters, may  the Holy Spirit help you to see the church as  God, the Lord Jesus, and the Holy Spirit  sees  her, and may your  thoughts concerning her  never be little again, as you make sure that  you continue to build  on the  foundations of the apostles  and the prophets, with Jesus Himself as the Corner Stone (Eph.  2:20)  


This verse  gets to the heart of the church’s  reason of existence, and  therefore her ministry.  [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.

The mystery of godliness referred to here is clearly  the Lord Jesus.  He is the mysterious  power  of the Christian life and of the Christian  church.  We have already seen that the religious  life in Ephesus was overshadowed  by the worship of Diana (Artemis). According to  the account in Acts 19:21-41, Paul had  a hard time  after he preached  the gospel  there, when  many  turned  from this gross idolatry  to  Christ.  A man named Demetrius in particular  stirred up trouble for Paul, because he knew that the power of Paul’s preaching was threatening the cult  and the associated commerce of Artemis.   Demetris  cried out,   “Great is  Artemis of the Ephesians!”  (Acts 19:28).  Paul  by contrast says,   “Great is the mystery of godliness – Great is Jesus Christ!” 
The truth is that Diana and all the idols of the world cannot stand before  our infinite, eternal, almighty King Jesus, just as little as the material   Philistine  god, Dagon,  could stand before the  captured  ark of  God. (1 Samuel 5

SO WHO IS JESUS?  6 things …

(i)He was manifested in the flesh. Though he pre-existed as God eternally with the Father, He came into this world, and though His deity was veiled, yet He was revealed in His humiliation  as the very Son of God.
(ii)  vindicated by the Spirit. At various stages  in Christ’s ministry  in his supernatural birth , his baptism and commission , in his resurrection the Holy Spirit bore testimony  to Christ.
(iii)seen by angels. Angels surrounded  Christ at his birth  and in his death, being seen by angels at the tomb on the day of His resurrection. Angels were present  when He ascended to heaven.
(iv) proclaimed among the nations.  The gospel of Christ  has gone throughout the world, even more so today , than then.
(v)believed on in the world.  Jesus is  not only preached in all the nations, He's believed on in all the nations. There are people from every tribe and tongue, and land and nation, who are resting and trusting in Him.
(vi) taken up in glory. This refers to His ascension

In these 6  short  statements  Paul  outlines  the massive person and ministry of Jesus.  The existence and  the glory of the church  rests on His person. We tend to forget that. Very often we are taken in by  lesser glories- such as Diana temples. We are easily  impressed   by lesser glories. Our modern temples  are  the  ever bigger and better shopping malls, sports stadiums, sports events and entertainment  centres. These  are  the new cathedrals of the world. These  and the services  and goods and entertainment  they sell keep us captivated  and interested, and  such idol business is booming  like in Ephesus.   Many are kept busy  in commercial  trade on this Lord’s  day.  The heart of our people lies exposed.
May God grant us to know how to behave in the household of God, the church of the Living God, the pillar  and buttress  of the truth.  A church built on this massive foundation will deal with false teaching by showing the superior  excellence of God’s truth. A church like  this will know how  to preach  the gospel, and she will  be able to manifest  a true balance between law and gospel. A church like this prays for her  city and nation . A church like this  has a  biblical view of the role of men and women. A church like this will choose her church officers according to godly standards ….all this, because the church knows the mystery of godliness – Jesus, her Lord ! Amen

[1] see this word oikos  used also in  vv.  4,5, 12
[2] 1 Tim 1:2
[3] the early and subsequent Christian church  preferred  to worship on Sunday, the  day of Christ’s resurrection,  the  first day of the week.        
[4] Jn 13:35 ; 1 Jn 3:11
[5] Eph 4:1-6
[6] Matt 24:1-2; Luke 21:5-6

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