The Mystery Of Godliness (1 Timothy 3:14-16)

I am writing all this to you, hoping I can come to you before too long; but in case I am delayed, you will know how one ought to behave as a member of God’s family—the assembly of the living God, the pillar and foundation that support the truth—  and I think you will agree that the mystery of godliness is great: He was revealed in the flesh and proven right in the Spirit; He was seen by the heavenly messengers, and preached to outsider nations; He was believed in the world, and taken up to the heavens in glory.

The context: Paul has been warning Timothy about false teachers; he’s been stressing the connectedness of our beliefs and our actions. Here he connects what we believe with how we live once again.

We can’t get around the fact that this book has a lot of ‘oughts.’ Paul reminds Timothy that there is a particular way people ‘ought to behave’ if they are members of God’s family. It’s yet another reminder that following Jesus will cost us something: in this case, our autonomy. If we join the team, our lives our not our own anymore.  We see this in smaller ways all the time: work, sports teams, clubs. If we want to be a part of them, we have to align our lives with their vision of the good life.  If we want to be associated with them, if we want to represent them, there is an obligation attached.

In a much bigger and much more important way, we answer to God; He gets to make the call about how we ought to live if we choose to align ourselves with Christ and His Kingdom.

This is sobering. It reminds us that how we live to a large degree reflects what we believe is true – or at least what will bring us hope and peace.  I’m not denying what Paul called the war within (Romans 7), and I’m not denying that our sins or the sins of others can so damage our lives that we can be trapped in situations where we do what we know we shouldn’t  - and long to be free. I’m only observing a biblical truth: there is always fruit to our lives, and what kind of fruit we bear is a pretty good indicator of what kind of tree we are (Matthew 3:8; Matthew 7:15-20).

But then Paul promptly comes back the ‘mystery of godliness,’ the incarnation of Jesus on earth. Once again, God will equip us to do what he demands of us. It’s because of Jesus that the church can be the pillar and foundation of truth.

Three reminders about the importance of the church.

The church is God's household.

Membership in God's household implies at least three things: refuge, responsibility and interdependence.

Refuge: Church should be a safe place in a hard culture. I don’t mean compromising. I mean a place where no one is mean; where justice and mercy are both implemented; where we value everyone as an image bearer of God enough to speak truth with grace, and to exercise both tough and gentle love. We laugh about ‘safe spaces’ on college campuses, but in the early church, the Christian community was a safe space in a much more profound way in the midst of a violent and degrading culture. This does not mean enablement; this does not mean we gloss over sin or compromise on truth. It means that people must see the sacrificial love of Jesus embodied in us. People might walk away from us or the church because they just don’t think what we have to say is true, but they should never walk away because we pushed them away with our attitudes and words.

Responsibility. We are God’s ambassadors. I am a Weber; opinions are formed about the Weber name by what I do – and what all my relatives do as well. I am an American; I am male; I am a Buckeye; I am a CLGer. What I do builds or tears down the reputation of all these things. We share the name of Christ; our reputation builds or tears down His. This is inescapable. People form an opinion about God when they form an opinion about God’s family.

Interdependence. In many ways, family carried with it a weight of obligation in biblical times that it doesn’t necessarily carry today. Generations would live together; there were inheritance issues, and social expectations, and a strong sense of honor associated with defending one’s family. What’s the 21st century update? We need each other. We weep and mourn and laugh with others (Romans 12:15). We bear each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:2). There are fifty-nine times in the New Testament the phrase “one another” is used.[1] It’s a big deal.

God never meant for there to be lone wolf Christians.  We are in this together.

The Church Of The Living God.

The so-called gods of the surrounding pagan cultures aren’t alive. Artemis is just an idol. This new ecclessia (gathering) of Christian people is distinct: a living God dwells within it (2 Corinthians 6:16). It’s a reminder that God is active, near to us, listening to our prayers, involved in our lives. The Holy Spirit prays for us when we don’t have words (Romans 8:26); Jesus intercedes for us (Hebrews 7:25). Even the Word of God is active and powerful (Hebrews 4:12). This is important, because we cannot accomplish the work of the church without a living God’s help.

The Pillar and Foundation that supports the mystery of godliness

Some think this may be a reference to the doctrine that shows up in the upcoming hymn; most think it’s a reference to the fact that the church exists to protect and teach the truth. The "mystery" is the appearance of Christ in history as the plan of salvation was fulfilled in the cross and resurrection (compare a verse from last week, 1 Timothy 3:9). The Jews had always wondered how the Messiah would save them – it was through Jesus.

The Hymn

Now Paul cites a hymn or a fragment of a hymn which commemorates Christ's appearance and ministry on earth.

He appeared in a body and was vindicated (defended and cleared) by the Spirit.

First, note the natural/supernatural duality of this claim. Jesus was not just some kind of phantom before or after his Resurrection. He was not just a man. He was fully man even as he was fully God. Second, note the divine stamp of affirmation. The Spirit bore witness to Jesus: "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased," (Matthew 3:17, 17:5, Mark 1:11, Luke 3:22). After he left earth, the Holy Spirit continued His work. All the Jesus said and did was proven by the Holy Spirit.

Was seen by angels and preached to outsider nations.

Once again, we are reminded that there is a supernatural and a natural world. God’s glory is declared in world both seen and unseen, and on earth, His gospel is meant for everyone.

Was believed on in the world and taken up in glory.

His resurrection and ascension gave an obvious and public display of his divine nature and glory, and as a result of witnessing the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, many believed.

Here’s what stands out to me: As much as Paul has been talking about the importance of righteous living, he never grounds our ability to do this in us. It always comes back to God at work in us. It’s always about Jesus.

He tells the church, “Here’s how you ought to behave as a member of God’s family.” I don’t know about you, but I feel the weight of the ‘oughts.’ The responsibility of being part of God’s family, of being part of an earthly ‘pillar and foundation of truth’ tasked with faithfully spreading the good news of the gospel. I am well aware of my failures, and it’s easy for me do be discouraged.

 This is an impossible task on our own power.  No wonder Paul adds that the mystery of godliness is great.  Not great just because it’s a miracle, but great because of how it transforms even us. If I may paraphrase Paul: “The church ought to believe and live a certain way because it has to be a cultural pillar and foundation of truth – so it’s a good thing we have Jesus.”  Remember: God will not call us to something for which he does not equip us.

And then he sings. About Jesus.

He was revealed in the flesh and proven right in the Spirit; He was seen by the heavenly messengers, and preached to outsider nations; He was believed in the world, and taken up to the heavens in glory.






[1] http://www.smallgroupchurches.com/the-59-one-anothers-of-the-bible/


Living With Kings: Prayer, Peace and Gravity (1 Timothy 1:18 – 2:6)


 "Timothy, my dear child, I am placing before you a charge for the mission ahead. It is in total agreement with the prophecies once spoken over you. Here it is: with God’s message stirring and directing you, fight the good fight, armed with faith and a good conscience. Some have tried to silence their consciences, making a shipwreck of their lives and ruining their faiths. Hymenaeus and Alexander are among these; I have had to hand them over to Satan so they might learn not to speak against God. So, first and foremost, I urge God’s people to pray. They should make their requests, petitions, and thanksgivings on behalf of all humanity. Teach them to pray for kings (or anyone in high places for that matter) so that we can lead quiet, peaceful lives in godliness and holiness, all of which is good and acceptable before the eyes of God our Savior who desires for everyone to be saved and know the truth.  Because ‘There is one God and one Mediator[1] between God and us— the man Jesus, God’s Anointed, Who gave His life as a ransom for all so that we might have freedom.’The testimony was given to me at just the right time. This is exactly what I was appointed to do—tell everyone His story—as a herald, an emissary, a teacher of the outsiders in faith and the truth."


Paul has already mentioned two kinds of doctrine in his letter to Timothy: the proper knowledge of Jesus (orthodoxy), and the proper embrace of life under the lordship of Jesus (orthopraxy).[2] Without these, we shipwreck our faith. If you want a sense of how seriously Paul takes this, watch The Finest Hours, or The Perfect Storm. Paul knew something about shipwrecks. I’m sure he didn’t choose this word casually.

So Timothy has to address that. In this case, “turning them over to Satan” does not mean he has some kind of authority to damn them. It seems to be more of a formal church pronouncement where they pray that God removes his blessing or protection so that the two men mentioned can experience the disaster of where their lives and teaching are going - but for the sake of restoration.

This opening section of warning about protecting orthodoxy and orthopraxy is followed immediately with the command to pray in every possible way. The four words used all mean different things, but they basically cover the full range of prayer. Just…pray.

 Then Paul gets specific.The church is to pray for all people and for kings and those who are in authority, so Christians can lead quite and peaceful lives. God really likes this, because He desires the salvation of everyone.

I heard the verse about quiet and peaceful lives a lot growing up. That was the Mennonite goal at the time. We just wanted to be left alone. We got our wish, but that wasn't necessarily a good thing. Our community was quiet and peaceful, but not necessarily evangelist or welcoming. We liked things how they were. We didn’t need someone to show up and rock the boat.  (NOTE: A lot has changed in that community since then. I don’t think that characterization still holds true).

We forgot to read the rest of Paul’s thought. This prayer is specifically related to evangelism. We pray for rulers to allow us to live peacefully, which is good in the eyes of a God who wants all people to be saved. We don’t pray for our leaders simply so we can live comfortably. We pray for our leaders so that they will create or at least allow a cultural climate in which we can freely share the gospel.

This practice began with the worship of the Jews when they were in exile (Jeremiah 29:7). There were times the Jewish people would even offer sacrifices for the kings - not to them, but for them (Ezra 6:9-10; also recorded in the historical, non-canonical book 1 Maccabees 7:33).

The Jews, by Augustus' order, offered a lamb daily for the Roman emperor until the destruction of Jerusalem, which the Zealots apparently brought about by stopping the practice (as recorded by Josephus in Wars of the Jews). So there was a practical reason for trying to honor rulers as much as possible.

The theological reason is that human government is part of God’s design (Romans 13:1; 1 Peter 2:13). The church was to pay taxes (Romans 13:7), honor the ruling authorities (Romans 13:7; 1 Peter 2:17) and pray for them. Note some early records in the church: 

  • "We pray to God, not only for ourselves, but for all mankind, and particularly for the emperors." (St. Cyprian, defending himself before a Roman proconsul)
  • "We pray for all the emperors, that God may grant them long life, a secure government, a prosperous family, vigorous troops, a faithful senate, an obedient people; that the whole world may be in peace; and that God may grant, both to Caesar and to every man, the accomplishment of their just desires." (Tertullian)
  • "We pray for kings and rulers, that with their royal authority they may be found possessing a wise and prudent mind." (Origen)
  • "Let us pray for kings and those in authority, that they may be peaceably inclined toward us, and that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all piety and honesty [or, 'gravity']" (Liturgy of St. Clement).
  • "Remember, Lord, our most religious and faithful kings... that in their serenity we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and gravity. Remember, O Lord, all rulers and all in authority, and all our brethren in the palace, and the whole court." (Liturgy of St. Basil)[4]

So we pray for the state to fulfill its God-given function of maintaining an orderly, peaceful environment, and we live in obedience as best we can without breaking our conscience or denying the gospel, because it’s in the best interest of spreading the good news of the gospel. But there is more. The description of the manner of Christian living (godliness and holiness) contains hints of how our witness is bolstered by the quality of our lives.

Godliness covers the idea of bringing together knowledge of and faith in God and the accompanying lifestyle. It’s living in a way that pays homage to God. When my dad died, I didn’t speak at his funeral. I had my uncle say that I wanted my life to be his eulogy. This is kind of the idea of godliness. The way that we live now pays homage to God. If this was accomplished, there was a practical advantage as well:

“In the first age, when the disciples of Christ were liable to be persecuted for their religion by their heathen neighbors, it was highly necessary, by praying for kings and all in authority, to make the heathen rulers sensible that they were good subjects. For thus they might expect to be less the object of their hatred.” – from biblehub’s commentary on 1 Timothy

Holiness has been translated as dignity, honesty, or reverence (the original word allows for this variety). It suggests a deportment of respectability that is evident to observers. Some translators suggest we should use the word ‘gravity’. There is a weightiness to our lives, one that acts as a lifestyle witness (1 Timothy 3:7; 6:1; Titus 2). I like this commentary’s conclusion:

“The church's prayer for all people is an essential aspect of its participation in the Great Commission. It is prayer that seeks the gospel's penetration into all parts of the world and every aspect of life. The closely related prayer for those whom God has placed in charge of government finds its ultimate purpose too in the accomplishment of God's plan of salvation. Perhaps it is worth noting that we find Paul praying not for the liberation of the land from Roman rule, but for the responsible administration of that rule.”  -from commentary at biblehub.com

There is a universality to this passage on a number of levels.

First, our stance as Christians should be to pray for our political leaders for the sake of the gospel. We should have been praying for President Obama and we should be praying for President Trump like the early church prayed for Roman emperors. If I may offer a sample prayer for this moment in our nation’s history:

“Lord, may President Trump flourish in the pursuit of justice and goodness; may our nation be safe and full of peace; may our national presence in the world bring justice and peace; may we as individuals and institutions care for the poor, the sick, and the outsider; may our political leaders be full of character, integrity and wisdom; may your Holy Spirit and truth work in them to bring them to saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. And may we, your children, be granted quiet and peaceful lives for the sake of the gospel.”

If someone new gets elected four years from now, just insert his or her name and keep praying.

Second, a quite and peaceful life is wasted if we do not live in godliness and holiness. We must live with spiritual gravity so that our presence carries godly weight in the world. We can pray all we want, but if our words and actions do not honor God, the kingdom of God and the spread of the Gospel will suffer.  We must commit, with God’s help, to living lives in which our actions testify to the goodness and glory of God.  

Finally, our peace and our godliness are squandered if we do not use the opportunity to spread the gospel. For the 1st century church, the hurdle was Gentiles and Samaritans, two groups of people the Jews figured God just didn’t like and maybe didn’t care about. Those groups aren’t our hurdles today: what groups of people, what kind of people, do we assume God just doesn’t like and maybe doesn’t care about?  What kind of people are the ones we think are least likely to make it into the Kingdom or that we are sure are deserving of God’s wrath? Are we pursuing them? Are we praying for them, befriending them, and being present in their lives?  

Let’s say we are committed to praying that the next four to eight years are times when we as Christians can live quiet and peaceful lives.  Are we just as committed to surrendering our lives so that godliness and holy gravity characterize us? Are we equally committed to using this opportunity to reach out with the good news of the gospel through word and deed?


[1] “And one mediator - The word μεσιτης, mediator, signifies, literally, a middle person, one whose office it is to reconcile two parties at enmity; and hence Suidas explains it by ειρηνοποιος, a peace-maker. God was offended with the crimes of men; to restore them to his peace, Jesus Christ was incarnated; and being God and man, both God and men met in and were reconciled by him. But this reconciliation required a sacrifice on the part of the peace-maker or mediator; hence what follows.”   - from Adam Clarke’s commentary

[2] http://www.breakpoint.org/features-columns/archive/1448-orthopraxy-over-orthodoxy

[3] In pre-Christian times, the Jews employed  "there is one God" formula found in the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4) to counteract polytheism. Paul talked about the oneness of God to demonstrate that all have access to God's salvation: the fact that there is one God of both Jews and Gentiles means salvation for the Gentiles too (Romans 3:29-30; Ephesians 4:4-6).

[4] The first three examples are from Adam Clarke’s commentary; the rest are from commentary found at biblehub.com