The Mystery of the Faith
1 Timothy 3:9
What has gone before...
Paul described a second level of church leadership: deacons. The definition of the word, as well as the context, imply that the early church had appointed specific people to assist or act as "waiters", supporting whatever was needed to be done.
Deacons were to have some, but not all, of the character qualities listed for overseers. The term "deacon" was applied to a wide variety of people, implying that nearly every one in the church who helped or served could be called a deacon.
Paul describes our faith in Christ as a "mystery":
1 Timothy 3:9 (ESV) "They [deacons] must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience."
Early in His ministry Jesus referred to "the secrets of the kingdom", using the same word that Paul used:
Matthew 13:11,13,15,17 (ESV) "To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given...This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand...For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them."
The Mystery of Godliness
Paul ended this chapter by describing his purpose in writing to Timothy:
1 Timothy 3:14-16 (ESV) "I hope to come to you soon, 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, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth. Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: 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."
Paul viewed Timothy as the lead pastor, the primary overseer of the church in Ephesus. Timothy's main task would be one of correction. In chapter one Paul urged Timothy to "remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine."
However, the letter was intended to be read, or heard, by all of the Christians in the church. Paul desired that this group of believers "know how one ought to behave in the household of God."
"Household" means a dwelling place, but the word implies the family which lives together in that dwelling place. Paul's concern is not for "church behavior", as if there were rules for people entering a building of worship. Rather, Paul's heartfelt desire was that the people of God knew how to behave appropriately as children of God and brothers and sisters of Jesus.
To be a Christian, to be "born again" or "saved", means to belong to God's family. That "belonging to" begins with a call from God, to which those that hear and desire will respond to.
To join a church means to gather together with others who have also responded positively to that call from God. Together, the people of God's household, the "called out ones", form a spiritual support for truth: truth about God and truth about people. A Christian church should see itself as having a rock-solid foundation of truth that never changes and never fails.
"Truth", for many people, is a moving target, dependent upon one's circumstances, culture and mindset. Style of dress, language, food and music can never serve as the hallmark of a genuine Christian church. What things do form rock-solid, unmoving truth?
Paul defined truth as "the mystery of godliness":
1 Timothy 3:16 (ESV) "Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: 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."
Paul declared that "the mystery of godliness" is the only rock-solid, unmoving truth upon which a Christian church should be founded.
Godliness could be described as a mystery because only recently had the complete truth about Jesus Christ been revealed to the world. Before His birth, death and resurrection, Jesus Christ was described by prophets in parables and shadowed references.
Godliness here means the truth of Jesus Christ shining brightly, fully revealed, through the lives of believers. Godliness is our response, our obedience, to the truth of Jesus.
"Piety" means the quality of being religious or reverent. It means obedience to one's beliefs, acting in accordance to our faith, walking our talk. Paul lists six defining truths which form the rock-solid, immovable foundation for any Christian, and any Christian church:
- Jesus was manifested in the flesh
- Jesus was vindicated by the Spirit
- Jesus was seen by angels
- Jesus was proclaimed among the nations
- Jesus was believed on in the world
- Jesus was taken up in glory