1 Timothy 3:14-16
These things write I to you, hoping to come to you shortly:…
I. REASON FOR GIVING TIMOTHY WRITTEN INSTRUCTIONS. "These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly; but if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how men ought to behave themselves in the house of God, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth." Paul hoped to come to Timothy at Ephesus shortly; there was a possibility, however, of his hope not being realized. In the event of his tarrying long, Timothy had written instructions for his conduct as an ecclesiastic. It would be held to be of great consequence that any one who officiated in the temple of Diana should be in a fit state of body and of mind, and should be conversant with the ceremonial. It was of far greater consequence that Timothy should know what was suitable behavior for the house of God. This was not the temple of a dead idol, but - passing over from the material structure to what was typified by it - the Church of the living God. It was "a living and spiritual community, a life-stream of believers in an ever-living God." It was fitting, then, that there should be those arrangements which are most conducive to the life of the community. This Church of the living God is declared to be the pillar and ground of the truth. There was a singular appropriateness in the language. The columns in the temple of Diana were one hundred and twenty-seven in number, sixty feet high, each the gift of a king. Massive in their form, substantial in their basement, they gave promise of the structure being upheld in its integrity down: through the centuries. And such it seemed to Paul was the Church - a columnar structure, substantially based, by which the truth is to be upheld from age to age. It is a great honor which God has laid on such imperfect believers as we are; and we should see to it that we do not belie the representation, that we do nothing to take away from the strength of the structure, that we preserve the continuity of the Church's life, that we witness faithfully to what God is and to what he has done.
II. GRANDEUR OF THE TRUTH UPHELD BY THE CHURCH. "And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness." The truth is here called "the mystery of godliness." A mystery is that which, being concealed for a time is brought out of concealment by a revelation. It is also something above our comprehension. And that meaning is not excluded here. For it is the mystery of godliness or piety. It is the mystery by which the Divine life is nourished in the soul. As religious beings, we need something that stretches away into infinitude. We can only breathe freely in an element of mystery. All religions that have ever been have sought to provide for the appetite for the wonderful. And where there has not been found real mystery, there have been dark inventions. But composedly great is the mystery, which the Christian religion provides for our nourishment. It is pronounced great by all who are capable of judging. And even those who reject it do so not infrequently on the ground of its being incredible, or too great to be true. The subject of the mystery is Christ. As set forth in the language which follows it is entirely Christ, or the facts about Christ. And the teaching is that it is by meditating upon these facts that we become pious or religious. Of the facts themselves we can take tangible hold; it is when we try to explain them to ourselves that we rise into the region where our religious feelings are excited and receive their nourishment. The rhythmic way in which the facts are presented has led some to suppose that they are taken from a Christian hymn in existence at the time when Paul wrote. We can believe them to have been written by Paul. In either case they have the stamp of the Holy Ghost. They are to be divided into threes, the first two in each division pointing to earthly relations, the third to heavenly. Of the earthly relations, the first in each division is external, the second internal. Facts particularized. "He who was manifested in the flesh." There is good reason for the change from "God" to "He who." We are not dependent on the old reading for the proof of our Lord's divinity. The manifestation of Christ implies previous concealment. And the language is more suggestive of the concealment of pre-existence than of the concealment of non-existence. The beginning of the mystery is Christ coming out of that concealment. "The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us." The Creator descended into the conditions, circumstances, of a creature. He was made of the substance of a woman. The almighty Builder of the universe was a helpless infant on a mother's knee. The eternal Son was the infant of days. He descended so low that he had to proceed from weakness to strength, from ignorance to knowledge. That, however, is only part of the mystery. It is said here that he was manifested in the flesh, and that means, not our nature as it came from the hand of God, but our nature as it has suffered from the fall. He descended into our weak, passable, mortal nature, to which the unfallen Adam was a stranger. He was in a state of utter bodily exhaustion from want of food when he was tempted in the wilderness. He sat down wearied with his journey at Jacob's well. He was often worn out with the arduous nature of his work. His compassion brought sorrow to his heart, which found vent in tears and sighs and groans. At last his flesh succumbed, could not bear any longer the burden laid on it; and his lifeless body was laid in the tomb. But still, as we consider, the mystery deepens. He died, not as paying the common debt of nature, but under the stroke of the Divine vengeance. "Awake, O sword, against my Shepherd, against the Man that is mine equal, saith the Lord of hosts." This is not so much for the understanding as for the inner sanctuary of the heart. It is not so much to be fixed in words as to be pondered and admired and felt. "Justified in the spirit." In the flesh he did not appear to be the pre-existent Son of God, and the Sent of God to be the Savior of the world; but he was this in his spirit or higher nature, and was vindicated as such both in the Divine marks which were put upon him, and in the principle which pervaded his life. There was a mark put upon him at the very first in his being separated from the taint of our nature through the power of the Holy Ghost. The glimpse we have of him in his youth shows him right in spirit both toward his Father and that Father's earthly representatives. At his baptism he received not the Spirit by measure, and there was the attestation of the voice from the excellent glory, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." At the outset of his public career, under extreme temptation, he showed that he was not to be turned aside from his mission. His starry pathway of miracles witnessed to the truth of his claims. And not less did his opening of the mind of God, and application of the truth to human need, witness to the singleness and loftiness of his spirit. There was a reiterated attestation from heaven to his Divine nature and mission at his transfiguration. But especially was he justified in the manner in which he died. He resisted unto blood, striving against sin. As we with some degree of resignation may bear a light trial, so he with perfect resignation bore the unmitigated weight of the Divine vengeance. As we with some degree of self-forgetfulness may labor for those who are near to us, so he with perfect self-forgetfulness and magnanimity sacrificed himself for sinners. That death in all its terribleness, reaching far beyond our conception, was what pre-eminently made proof of him, and it showed his spirit to be in perfect accord with the will of God in salvation. Last of all, he was justified by his resurrection. It is said, in Romans 1:4, that by this he was declared with power to be the Son of God. It was God setting his seal upon his whole career. Because he was pleased with the manner in which he had acted all along, saw the ends of justice and mercy carried out successfully in human salvation, therefore it was that he raised him from the dead. "Seen of angels." He was an object of interest to the heavenly world. We find angels jubilantly ushering him into this world, within sight and hearing of men. They appear at the commencement of his ministry, strengthening him after his temptation. And again they appear at the close, strengthening him after his agony, and also watching over his tomb. But were they not always there behind the veil? Unseen by us, they go about our world ministering to the heirs of salvation. Would they not minister, more than was seen, to the Author of salvation? They came forward upon the scene at critical times. It was enough; we can imagine the rest. But the language seems also to point to the fact that, in becoming incarnate, Christ made himself to be seen by angels. In the human form assumed by him he held them in rapt gaze. They could not turn away from beholding and wondering. They saw the Son of God in a form that was level to them, that was even below them; for he was made a little lower than the angels. What cause for wonder in the change from that ineffable, unapproachable glory to this frail flesh; from that God most high, to this infant lying in a manger! And as the mystery was developed, how would their wonder increase! He was degraded until he could to no lower depth be degraded. Well might they be overwhelmed with wonder as they looked on at Calvary. Having a desire to look into these things, as we are told, they would be lost in trying to account for them. Even when knowing the object contemplated, they would be amazed to think that, for the accomplishment of it, the Divine Son should descend into such a condition of mortal woe. "Preached among the nations." This is quite a new interest. Angels merely saw, admired from a distance. They were spectators contemplating that in which they were not directly involved. It was different with men. He was the subject of an evangel to them. He was proclaimed as their personal Savior, without whom they were lost, in whom alone they had standing before God and everlasting blessedness. But stress is laid upon the universal reference of the preaching. He was preached, not to one nation, but among the nations (Jews included), without distinction. This was being realized as historical fact. He was being proclaimed without respect to national distinction, without respect to social condition, without respect to culture, with respect simply to the fact that all were sinners and in need of salvation. Following upon his having taken the common nature, and his having wrought out the common salvation, the message of salvation was being conveyed with the utmost impartiality. This was part of the mystery which was then being disclosed, and which the unprejudiced agreed in calling great. It was impressive to the early Church to witness the proclamation of a world-wide salvation. "Believed on in the world." God does not force us to believe. There must be a sufficient cause for our faith, sufficient to move our hearts and gain us over. Our faith must be caused in a rational way, in a way consistent with the nature of God and our own nature. The cause must be homogeneous with respect to the effect; spiritual as faith is a spiritual effect. How, then, is Christ to be believed on in the world, i.e. in that which is naturally unbelieving, which contains no germ of faith which can be cultivated? How can light be brought out of darkness, how can faith be brought out of unbelief? And yet what have we here? There is such a potency in the fact of God incarnate as to work a moral miracle, to evoke faith from that which is naturally incapable of faith. And wherein does the potency lie? It is in the love which the fact manifests. "The Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself up for me." He did not spare himself all the humiliation of the death of the cross. That is a fact which requires to be contemplated; but, as it is contemplated, it asserts its power over hearts, so as to make the insensate feel, the unbelieving believe. Now, the apostle regards it as glorious testimony to the greatness of the mystery that Christ should actually be believed on in the world, that there should be some trophies of the power of his love over unbelief, that there should be some to offer him a home in their hearts. "Received up in glory." In the biographies of great men we are told of one achievement gained after another, of one honor conferred after another. But however long and glorious the scroll which can be shown, it has to end with their bidding a long farewell to all their greatness. And, though monuments are raised to their memory, it cannot take away the essential ingloriousness of the termination to their career. With Christ it is at the earthly termination that to outward appearance he becomes great. He had indeed, like others and more than others, to undergo the ingloriousness of dying, and of being laid in the tomb. But that ingloriousness was completely reversed by his resurrection. He lingered long enough on earth for history to attest the fact that he was indeed risen. And then he made his triumphal entry into heaven. "Why leap ye, ye high hills? this is the hill which God desireth to dwell in; yea, the Lord will dwell in it for ever. The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels: the Lord is among them, as in Sinai, in the holy place. Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive." He was received up into glory - into glorious exaltation in our nature at the right hand of God - and in glory he forever remains. This is conclusive evidence to the greatness of the mystery. The godly delight to dwell upon and to feed their life, not only with the humiliation, but, beyond that, with the exaltation. - R.F.
Parallel VersesKJV: These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly: