Sermons

The Mystery of Godliness

August 22, 2021 Speaker: Josh DeGroote Series: First Timothy - Guard the Deposit

Topic: Gospel Living Passage: 1 Timothy 4:6–4:10

Paul had a passion for the church. He loved the church, wanted to see the church thrive and be nourished and spiritually healthy. Above all, Paul longed for the church to magnify the Lord Jesus Christ who bought the church with his own blood. For Paul, it would have been unthinkable to approach the church as a consumer. You know, those that see churches as producers of goods - the music is good here, I like the programs over there. This church doesn’t go too long, etc. Quite frankly, the way some approach the church today. 

Paul also would have gagged at the idea of approaching the church in a sort of sentimental or nostalgic way. “Now that I have kids, I really want to start going to church…” Or viewing the church as a social club, a place to network with others and fill the social aspect of life we all long for. Or a casual, half in, half out approach. The approach to church of not wanting to overcommit and become encumbered with responsibilities and so forth. 

For Paul the church was something so far above anything those kinds of considerations are worthy of. Paul had a passion for the church. And it was out of this passion that Paul wrote this letter to Timothy. We see this in verses 14-15 of our text where Paul tells us the purpose for which he wrote this letter to Timothy. He said, 

I hope to come to you soon [Timothy], but I am writing these things to you so that if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God.  

Do you see Paul’s purpose? Really the Holy Spirit’s purpose. Paul says, “I am writing to you, so that (purpose) you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God.” Paul wants Timothy, and through Timothy, the church, how people ought to behave in the God’s house - the church. Now let’s be honest, for many this does not enter into the equation at all. “How I ought to behave? I just show up, or don’t. I just do my thing…”

But this letter gives lots of instruction for how we ought to live, behave, or conduct ourselves in the church. And it’s important! Godly conduct matters. We’ve already seen earlier in this letter that the Spirit calls for men to “pray, lifting holy hands without anger or fighting” (2:8). The Spirit calls for women to adorn themselves with godliness and good works rather than gaudy and immodest dress (2:9-10). We’ve seen how the Spirit calls for qualified men to fill the offices of elder (pastor) and deacon in the church. As pastor, giving oversight, teaching and preaching the word of God authoritatively and faithfully. And as deacons, qualified men are called to serve the body’s physical needs. This is some of the nuts and bolts of God’s wise instruction for how we are to behave in God’s house. Much more could be and will be said as we continue through 1 Timothy…

But what Paul does in these three verses is he 1) elevates the church utilizing three marvelous, descriptive phrases to describe and 2) exalts in the common confession that all true Christians share. This is magnificent… 

Brothers and sisters, we need to know this! We need to know what the church is. We need our thoughts and affections about the church to be elevated. And we need to understand this exalted confession and say it together and sing it together and proclaim it together and live it together! 

So Paul elevates the church using three beautiful phrases to describe it. Here they are and then we will dig into each one: The church is called: 1) The church of the living God, 2) the household of God, and 3) the pillar and support of the truth.

 

1) The church of the living God

First, Paul calls the church, “the church of the living God”. This is one of the designations for God in the NT, used fifteen times. Our God is “the living God”, as opposed to the deadness of idols - which have eyes but cannot see, ears but cannot hear, mouths but cannot speak, need to be carried by their worshipers. Yahweh is the living God - he is eternal and immortal. He is the source of life and he gives this life to all who are in Christ. 

He is the living God and we are his church. One of the most stunning truths in the New Testament, a glorious promise and experience for believers is that through Christ, we become the dwelling place of God. Check this out in 2 Corinthians 6:16:

What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

Paul says elsewhere in Ephesians 2:22, 

In him (that is in Christ), you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

Because God by his Holy Spirit dwells in each of us, when we come together as the church, we are “the church of the living God…” And therefore, I hope you understand the church is unlike any other organization on the planet. It is unlike any other group of human beings that has ever existed! Now, this phrase, “church of the living God” might sound a little institutional. In the Greek manuscripts from which our English bibles come, the words are in a different order. It literally reads, “the living God’s church.” You might say, what’s the difference? The emphasis is put on God and we (the church) as his chosen, beloved possession. The church is (and we are) the living God’s church - and our conduct in the church matters...

 

2) The Household of God

Paul uses a second phrase here to elevate the church and it’s this. The church is “the household of God”. Household comes from the Greek word “oikos”, which speaks of a home or house and all the people that form one family. We are the household of God. The church is his household - with God as our Father. Jesus gives us the immense privilege of calling God our Father! Remember when he teaches his disciples to pray. He said, “Pray this way, ‘Our Father’”. He puts the Father’s name on us, brings us into the Father’s home so that His Father is our Father. We are God’s household, part of his eternal family

And the Lord Jesus Christ is our brother to whom we are being conformed. His blood was the price of our adoption and now are being conformed to his image. Romans 8:29 says we were “predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” 

We are the household of God, with the Spirit of adoption indwelling us. Now it is one thing for Jesus to teach us to pray “our Father”. That’s wonderful! Praise his name! It is quite another thing for the Holy Spirit of God, the Spirit of adoption to be poured into our hearts and from within to give us the familial cry, “Abba! Father!”. We are his household!

Look around this room. Those who are in Christ by faith alone, are your brothers and sisters - and will be forever. We are God’s forever family. We realize that we have relational challenges now because sin still infects us. It won’t be that way forever. Heaven will be a world of perfect love. And I would suggest that as we align ourselves with God’s purposes and the truth of what God says about us - that we are his household - we will grow in our affection for, forbearance of, and forgiveness of one another.  

I fear for those who would say they are Christians, but really want nothing to do with other Christians. They show up Sunday after Sunday, but are content with being strangers. It shouldn’t be that way. In fact, may be evidence that you haven’t been adopted into the family at all. The church is God’s household! There is one more phrase that Paul uses to describe the church and it’s this:

 

3) The Church is the “Pillar and Buttress of the Truth”

This is an awesome description of the church. John Calvin wrote, “It is no ordinary dignity that is ascribed to the church when it is called the pillar and ground of the truth. For what higher terms could be used to describe it?”

Of course pillar and buttress (or support) are architectural terms to speak of a building or some kind of structure. The church is the “structure”, living stones, that holds up and holds forth God’s truth in the world. The church is not the source of truth. The church does not decide what is true. God is Jehovah El Emet, the LORD God of truth - and he has given us the good deposit of truth in his word. Jesus prayed in John 17:17, “Father, sanctify them in the truth, your word is truth.” 

This is a divine call to have our lives and the life of the church saturated by the word of God. The word must be everything to the church because it is sufficient. It is totally sufficient to teach us everything God intends for us to know and believe for our salvation and life and godliness. It is totally sufficient to equip believers for every good work. We are the pillar and support of the truth - we are to hold it up and hold it forth in the world. 

There is kind of a perfect storm right now. Demonic deception and lies everywhere foisted upon us daily. And at the same time, Christians are losing their grip on truth. The truth. Absolute truth - what Francis Schaeffer called “true truth”. And it is being substituted for a kind of weak, spineless spirituality. Not too dogmatic. Brothers and sisters, we must be about the truth. We need to know the truth, we need to get the truth down into our bones, we need to build each other up in the truth, so that we can hold up and hold out the truth. The church is the pillar and support of the truth.

So if the church is the living God’s church and the household of God and the pillar and support of the truth, do you think it matters how we behave, how we conduct our lives in the church? Of course it does! But Paul is not done. He not only elevates the church, he also exalts in our common confession

 

Our Common Confession

Look at the first part of verse 16, 

Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness. 

Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness. Verse 16 might seem like it's out of place. What is Paul talking about here? It’s not out of place. In fact, I’ll show you shortly how this connects with Paul’s main point which is how we are to behave as Christians. What is Paul communicating? He is drawing our attention to the common confession that true Christians make. Those who are truly part of the living God’s church, the household of God, the pillar and support of the truth - our common confession.  

The NASB puts the first part of verse 16 this way: “By common confession, great is the mystery of godliness…” The NKJV says, “Without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness.” The point is this: this mystery of godliness (whatever that is), is something every true Christian is in agreement on - this is by common consent of all born again Christians. Christians have always had confessions. Things that they say, “This is what we believe!” We live in a time right now where there is an aversion to confessions, creeds, etc. And I think it is to our detriment. There’s a lack of common clarity. The Apostle’s Creed begins with the words, “I believe…” The Nicene Creed starts with “We believe”. And they would confess with their mouths the things they held in common. 

Paul says here, “Great indeed we confess is the mystery of godliness…” What is the mystery of godliness? Don’t let the word mystery throw you off. It’s not talking about some esoteric knowledge gained by climbing some mystical ladder. When Paul uses the word mystery, he always has a specific meaning and it’s this: something that was previously hidden and now revealed. The mystery of godliness is the revealing of godliness or the revealing of God-likeness. And it’s not a what, but a Who. And what follows is more than likely a portion of a hymn, a song that the early church sang and it is clearly about Christ and his work of salvation. This is the mystery:

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.

Our common confession is what we confess about Christ, and the salvation that is found in him. This is what there is no controversy about! All who are part of the living God’s church confess this. Let’s with deepest reverence contemplate each phrase.

 

He was manifested in the flesh

Christ, the eternal Son of God, humbled himself by leaving his throne above and took on flesh, became a man, and took the form of a slave. The Nicene Creed says it so beautifully: “For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven.” And why? Christ became a man in order to die for men. Hebrews 2:17 says he was  “made like us in every way to be a merciful and faithful high priest to make propitiation for our sins.” He was manifested in the flesh. Next… 

 

He was vindicated by the Spirit

Jesus Christ came in utter humiliation and lowliness - Isaiah said “He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men…” Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit vindicated his Person and work all along the way: [explain] baptism, ministry (Acts 10:38), resurrection to vindicate the work of the cross. Romans 1:4 says, “[Christ] was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead.” Christ was vindicated by the Spirit. Next… 

 

He was seen by angels

Angels are not mentioned much in the gospels, but there are some key places where they are. At his birth, Gethsemane, resurrection, ascension. Angels had beheld the glory of Christ from the moment of their creation, but it was perhaps these events in redemptive history that Peter refers to when he says that angels long to look into the salvation we experience as Christians (1 Peter 1:12). Jesus was not incarnate for angels, he didn’t suffer and die and rise and ascend for angels. The writer of Hebrews says, “it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham”. Yet the angels were given glimpses of this saving work for the purpose of worship. He was seen by angels. Next...

 

He was proclaimed among the nations

The great commission (according to Matthew, Mark, Luke) was to proclaim Christ. And the early disciples did. They started in Jerusalem. Acts 8, spread out to Samaria through Philip. In Acts 10 to the Gentiles have the good news proclaimed through Peter. And in Acts 13 Paul and Barnabas commissioned and take the gospel to the ends of the Roman empire. And even to today, the commission still stands. The gospel continues to go to the nations and he will not return until all the nations hear. Next… 

 

He was believed on in the world

It is not just that the message is to be broadcast to all nations, to the ends of the earth, but the expectation is that there will be repentance and faith granted by the Spirit as the gospel is proclaimed and all the nations will come to Christ. This is the great song of Revelation 5:

Worthy are you to take the scroll and open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. (Rev. 5:9) 

 

He was taken up in glory

The ascension of Christ. Jesus Christ has been exalted… he now sits at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb. 12:2). And he sits there reigning as enemies are put under his feet. And at just the right time he will come again to put everything right. This is our blessed hope! In the end, the wrong shall fail and the right will prevail. 

This is what we confess about Jesus Christ. This is what the church needs to get back to today. We are not to be busy building our own little kingdom here. We are to confess Christ. Jesus is Lord, the God man who lived a perfect life, who died an atoning death, bearing the wrath of God for sinners, who rose again, conquering death, who ascended to the Father’s right hand and sits there in a place of universal authority as King of kings and Lord of lords, who is coming again with a sword. His name must be proclaimed among the nations and by his grace, they will hear and come. This is our common confession. 

Let’s end with this. What does this confession have to do with our conduct in the church? When our behavior gets off, it is because something else has assumed that center - that place of preeminence rather than Christ. However, our confession and worship of Christ, living faith in Christ, and active submission to Christ is the key to godly, reverent conduct in the church which is “the living God’s church”, the “household of God”, the “pillar and support of the truth”. Let’s pray.

More in First Timothy - Guard the Deposit

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