Thursday, December 31, 2009

1 Timothy 3:14-16

We end this year looking at the final 3 verses of 1 Timothy 3. We'll begin the new year, Lord willing, by examining chapter four of Paul's first letter to Timothy.

V14-16 – 14Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, 15if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. 16Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: He [or God] appeared in a body [or in the flesh], was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.

In the concluding passage of this chapter, we finally come to Paul’s reason for writing – to teach Timothy, in light of or in the meantime of his absence, how to teach others to live godly lives in the pagan culture. One commentator suggests that it’s much like Leviticus; the laws were given especially since the surrounding culture was so different from the laws. God wants sanctification and holiness; His people are to be set apart and different. After acknowledging that he hopes to come soon to see Timothy, Paul announces that the church (“ecclesia” literally means “the called out ones”) is “the pillar and foundation of the truth” (v15). In other words, “the church of the living God,” referring to the called out people of God in His self-existence, upholds gospel truth. Now this seems an amazing statement, and Paul even refers to it as “the [great] mystery of godliness.” In order for the truth to be taught and applied, the church must thrive. And in order for the church to thrive, the truth must be taught and applied. This great truth, the gospel truth of Jesus Christ, is “beyond all question.” In other words, every believer acknowledges Jesus, “the mystery of godliness!”

Paul concludes with several lines that most likely were lyrics of an early Christian hymn. In v16, we read of six particulars, on which commentators have had different opinions over the years. One view is that these six notes are nothing more than revealed truth about Jesus Christ; thus the pattern would be A-B-C-D-E-F. We would read this verse as Paul saying that God “appeared in a body” (or in the flesh). This testimony to Jesus’ deity in the incarnation speaks again to the importance of Jesus’ humanity and also His preexistence. His vindication by the Spirit speaks to His resurrection from the dead (Romans 1:4), or the declaration of His sinless life. That He “was seen by angels” may refer to His resurrection day, or to His ascension into heaven (Acts 1:10-11). Being “preached among the nations” is a testimony again to the value of and God’s purpose for the church (2 Corinthians 4:6). “Believed on in the world” speaks to the amazing grace of God and the importance of faith. And finally, “taken up in glory” refers to the exaltation of Jesus Christ (Acts 7:56) as God, especially at His ascension into heaven.

Another view suggests that these six particulars represent a different pattern, focusing alternatively on Christ’s earthly (humiliating) and heavenly (exalted) experiences. The pattern would be A-B, B-A, A-B. He “appeared in a body,” was “preached among nations,” and was “believed on in the world;” these, of course are representative of Jesus’ earthly experiences. On the other hand, He “was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels,” and “was taken up in glory;” these elements are purely heavenly, referring to Jesus Christ’s exaltation.

Finally, there is another view that these six particulars mentioned by Paul are patterned A-B-C, A-B-C. If this is the case, we could see them as referring, in the first set, to revealed truths about Christ, and in the second set, to revealed truths about the Church of Jesus Christ. I like all three perspectives, but this last one is most intriguing. Jesus came as a man, was vindicated by the Spirit, and was seen by angels; He was born, raised from the dead, and ascended into heaven. And then He was preached among the nations, people in the world believed on Him, and they were taken to glory in Him.

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