The Truth We Exalt

1 Timothy 3:16

16 And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness:
God was manifested in the flesh,
Justified in the Spirit,
Seen by angels,
Preached among the Gentiles,
Believed on in the world,
Received up in glory.

  1. Introduction – I’ve had a genuinely difficult time over the last couple of weeks just tying to wrap my head around how exactly to approach this passage. In fact as I’ve thought on it and wrestled with it, I found myself just wanting to skip it and move on. 1 Timothy 4 is certainly a great passage, and there are a lot of things I’d like to get into there in chapter 4, but something about the last verse of chapter 3 has had my stuck.
    1. In reality, 1 Timothy 3:16 was more than likely an early church hymn or doxology. There’s a good chance it was well known among early christians as something of a catechismal statement. A statement or hymn that begins with a concept that is central and essential to the Christian faith. An issue that is actually the focus of this holiday season that we’re now entering into. That is, the issue of the incarnation.
      1. The Christian faith is built upon the teaching that God became Man. 1 Timothy 3:16 keys in on this; “God was manifested in the flesh.” This is what we celebrate every year in December. The Christmas celebration is the commemoration of the advent and nativity of Christ. And this was the truth that Christians believed and proclaimed all the way back at the beginning.
      2. The incarnation has been core to the Christian faith since before the church was birthed.
        1. Seven hundred years before Jesus came the Prophet Isaiah prophesied.
          1. Isaiah 7:14 ~ “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.
          2. Isaiah 9:6 ~ For unto us a Child is born,
            Unto us a Son is given;
            And the government will be upon His shoulder.
            And His name will be called
            Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
            Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
      3. So because we’re about to enter the season of Advent, and because we will be celebrating the incarnation and nativity of Christ at Christmas, and because this passage speaks to the doctrine of incarnation, and because we’re going to be stepping out of 1 Timothy on a little detour for the next 9 weeks … I just had a difficult time skipping over verse 16.
        1. But, that doesn’t make the task very easy. 1 Timothy 3:16 has so much truth in so few words, that it’s a challenge. I’m not looking for sympathy, I’m just sharing my thoughts.
          1. Well, let’s pull back a little for some contextual runway…
  2. 1 Timothy 3:14-15 ~ These things I write to you, though I hope to come to you shortly;
    15 but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth

    1. There are three interesting propositions here that are the launching pad into verse 16…
      1. The house of God — The church of the living God — The pillar and ground of the truth
        1. “The house of God.” In the Old Testament it’s a major theme. It’s seen a lot in the Old Testament. In fact it shows up 82 times in the Old Testament. But in the New Testament it virtually disappears.
          1. I went back and looked at all 82 verses in the Old Testament that speak of the “House of God” and 81 of them refer to the “house of God” as in the Temple of the Jewish people … or before the Temple, there was a tabernacle.
          2. The “house of God” or the Temple/tabernacle was the central focus of Jewish life for almost 1,500 years. And then almost 2,000 years ago it just disappears. Now of course the temple building was destroyed in 70 AD, just as Jesus prophesied. But even before the Temple building was destroyed, it’s focus disappeared.
          3. But here Paul brings it up, but not in regard to a place. It’s no longer locative. The concept of the House of God shows up only three times in the New Testament (other than 3x in the Gospels as temple references from the Old Testament) and never in reference to a place, but to something entirely different.
        2. Paul has been writing that Christians need to know how to conduct themselves correctly (righteously) “in the house of God.”
          “Well where is that?”
          Well, it’s not a place.
          “Then what is it?”

          1. “The house of God” is “the church of the living God.”
          2. Point 1 — The house of God is no longer a place, it’s a people.
            1. So, if you’re a Christian, then you’re apart of the people of the living God, or the Church, and you are the house of God.
        3. Now you may not realize it, but this is amazing. At least the implication of it is.
          1. You see a lot of people want a holy place to go to. They want a locative “house of God.” In fact a lot of Christians will still refer to a Church building as “the house of God.” Which is of course not correct doctrinally. But we love holy buildings. And if you ever go to a “holy” building, then you know that there’s a certain conduct that is expected. Holy buildings require holy conduct.
            1. Illustrationif you ever travel with us to Israel, or Rome, and you visit some of the cathedrals, or basilicas, often you cannot enter without wearing long pants or a skirt for the ladies. “You’re going to the house of God, don’t you know. You’re entering the “holy place” so you have to have “holy conduct.””
            2. But here’s the thing, if the house of God is a people and not a place, then the house of God is everywhere those people are, therefore, “I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself” wherever you, the people of God, the church of the living God, the house of God are.
              1. Let’s be honest, it’d be so much easier to just have a holy place to go to where you’re expected to be holy only when you’re there. But listen Church, you’re the church wherever you go, and you need to be seeking to conduct yourself rightly wherever you go … not just whenever you come here. That’s challenging!
              2. But why!?! Why should we have to do this? Because of the next proposition at the end of verse 15…
      2. “The church of the living God” is “the pillar and ground of the truth.”
        1. Why must we, the church, conduct ourselves rightly wherever we go? Because we are the grounding, foundational support of the truth.
        2. Point 2 — The church possesses and proclaims the truth.
          1. You may be thinking, “Does that mean that everything outside the church or the Bible is false?” No!
            1. There are many things that are true that are to be found outside of the Bible. The Bible does not contain all true things that could ever be known. But it does contain the antecedent truth.
              1. The fundamental truth that creates the construct of reality that all other truths will accord with is the truth the church possesses and proclaims.
                1. In other words, if you get this truth wrong, then all the other things you’ll come up with, though they seem true, will be off.
                2. If you start off wrong, every conclusion will then be false. If you begin with a flawed premise you will never get a good result.
                3. A deduction from a false premise, though seemingly correct, will always be false. It’s what is called in logic, a deductive fallacy from a false premise.
                  1. Illustration — Watch the TED Talk, “The history of the universe in 18 minutes.” and you’ll understand exactly what I’m talking about.
          2. Therefore, the house of God, the church of the living God, must be living rightly so as to not bring disrepute to the truth it possesses and proclaims.
            1. And sadly, we’ve not always done a good job with that. We could do better!
      3. But, what is this fundamental, antecedent truth the church possesses and proclaims?
        1. Paul gives it to us in a song/hymn/doxology…
  3. 1 Timothy 3:16 ~ And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness:
    God was manifested in the flesh,
    Justified in the Spirit,
    Seen by angels,
    Preached among the Gentiles,
    Believed on in the world,
    Received up in glory.

    1. And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness:
      1. Without a doubt, what Paul here declares as the fundamental is a great mystery.
      2. “Great is the mystery of Godliness…” And what is meant by this is that it would be unknown without revelation or manifestation.
        1. That’s what a mystery is in the Biblical sense.
          1. Typically in our cultural construct, a mystery is something that is difficult or impossible to understand. And often we think of a mystery as something that can’t really be solved. So we have the concept of “unsolved mysteries.”
          2. A mystery in the Biblical sense is something that is meant to be known but cannot be known without a revealing. A manifestation.
            1. Illustration – This is why gifts are the perfect thing for Christmas. A Christmas gift is shrouded in mystery. It’s placed in a box and wrapped with paper and a bow, and placed under the tree (if that’s how you do it). And there it sits as a mystery. It’s known to be something, but just what it is is mysterious. And then on an appointed day it is made manifest and revealed.
              1. So also God, “whom no man has seen or can see,” was wrapped, “dwelling in unapproachable light,” (1 Timothy 6:16), until…
    2. God was manifested in the flesh,
      1. Point 3 — Jesus brought to light the glory and majesty of God.
        1. It was under wraps until Jesus came onto the scene!
          1. 2 Timothy 1:8-10 ~ Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God,
            9 who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began,
            10 but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel

            1. So much becomes clear through the incarnation.
      2. Jesus is God in the flesh. This is mysterious and wonderful and so hard for many to swallow. Like Nicodemus in John 3, you might exclaim, “How can these things be!?!
        1. Well it’s not merely because someone said so, for the manifested God with us was…
    3. Justified in the Spirit,
      1. Or as Paul wrote in another place…
        1. Romans 1:4 ~ and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.
      2. Jesus was vindicated, justified and proven to be God in human flesh by many signs and wonders done in the Spirit, most notably when he was resurrected from the dead!
      3. The hymn goes on…
    4. Seen by angels,
      1. Of the six lines of this hymn, this may seem to be the most odd or out of place. There’s a sense in which (at first reading) you might think, “Well of course He (God) was “seen by angels!” Haven’t they been with Him in His presence the whole time?”
        1. But here’s the amazing thing about the mystery of God. The angels, in His presence since their creation, had never seen God, until “God was manifest in the flesh” 2,000 years ago. “Wait! What?” Yep…
          1. John 1:18 ~ No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.
            1. That “no one” includes angels! “But how could they be in His presence and never see Him?”
          2. Isaiah 6:1-3 ~ In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple.
            2 Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face
            , with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.
            3 And one cried to another and said:

            “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
            The whole earth is full of His glory!”

            1. The angelic host of heaven or so in awe of the glory of God, and so humbled by His holiness, that they (I believe) had never seen God (having never looked upon Him), until the only begotten Son manifest His glory as the babe in Bethlehem.
              1. That’s why Peter would write
                1. 1 Peter 1:10-12 ~ Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you,
                  11 searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.
                  12 To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things which angels desire to look into
      2. So the glorious God was manifest in the flesh (incarnate), was proven to be God by the vindicating evidence of the Spirit, he was seen by Angels, and therefore He is…
    5. Preached among the Gentiles,
      1. Point 4 — Christ came to be proclaimed.
        1. He has brought to light life and immortality through the Gospel.
        2. Isaiah 61:1 ~ “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me,
          Because the LORD has anointed Me
          To preach good tidings to the poor;
          He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
          To proclaim liberty to the captives,
          And the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
      2. And ever since His advent, that’s exactly what has happened. He has been preached and proclaimed. And He will continue to be preached and proclaimed, until He returns a second time.
      3. And why is He preached and proclaimed among the nations? So that He will be…
    6. Believed on in the world,
      1. The purpose of our preaching is the resulting commitment of our hearer’s trust in Jesus.
        1. The belief we seek is not a casual mental ascent. It is not a verbal acknowledgement with nod of the head. We seek the commitment of one’s trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of sin and eternal salvation.
          1. 1 Corinthians 15:1-2 ~ Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand,
            2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
          2. Why is this committed trust and belief important?
            1. Romans 10:9-11 ~ that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.
              10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
              11 For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame
      2. One final line…
    7. Received up in glory.
      1. The tomb is empty. As the angels said to those who came to the tomb early on the first Easter Sunday morning…
        1. Luke 24:5-6 ~ Then, as they were afraid and bowed their faces to the earth, they said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?
          6 “He is not here, but is risen! Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee,

          1. You can visit the tomb and remains of Muhammed. It’s in Saudi Arabia.
          2. The remains of Buddha were cremated and scattered
          3. The tomb of Christ is empty because Jesus ascended into heaven and was received up in glory. He is even seated on a thrown in heaven at this moment.
          4. Point 5 — We preach the living Christ, not a dead prophet.
            1. Which is one of the reasons you can feel confident inviting people here to hear the Gospel. You can be certain that the truth of Christ will be preached.