Mystery and Discipline
1 Timothy 3:13 - 4:11
Paul has been concerned greatly with the
appearance of the church to the outside world. In this section of
the Scripture he outlines the last three items:
1. The nature of the Church and Christ,
and thus to beware of
2. Those who would lead the Christians
astray, which is why
3. We must labor and strive for the
The Nature of the Church and Christ
1 Timothy 3:14-16 NASB I am writing these
things to you, hoping to come to you before long; (15) but in case I
am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct
himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living
God, the pillar and support of the truth. (16) By common confession,
great is the mystery of godliness: He who was revealed in the flesh,
Was vindicated in the Spirit, Seen by angels, Proclaimed among the
nations, Believed on in the world, Taken up in glory.
Timothy is in a difficult spot. He’s a young man
full of faith, but in his world the elderly were not despised as
they are today. Being young was a handicap in leading the church. So
Paul offers his encouragement: he tells Timothy that he hopes to
return to him. However, he might be delayed – and therefore he has
written. But it is not just to give him miscellaneous instruction;
Paul lays our before Timothy the “why” of his letter. His words so
far have been concerned with external behavior – but now he explains
the mystery of the church.
The nature of the church
Paul gives us two descriptions of the church.
First, the church is the family
of God. It is not uncommon for Christians to call each other
brother and sister. For we are God’s household, his family.
We are the brotherhood of men under the Fatherhood of God.
This gives us great privilege – and great responsibility.
The church is also the pillar
and support of the truth. The phrase is revealing. For some
aspects of the truth – the spiritual, for example – the
church is that pillar. Remove that pillar, and that truth
collapses. That part of the truth would not be upheld if we
did not do it. In other areas of the truth, we are its
support. There are many aspects of Christianity which are
shared with other religions. Without confirming them, we
uphold those shared aspects. The prohibition against murder
is (rather, was, in these days of abortion on demand)
something shared, and something we uphold.
The Mystery of Godliness
It is fascinating that Paul does not refer to
this as the mystery of Christ (as elsewhere.) Rather, he is talking
about how the church should behave; at the core of that behavior is
the answer to the only important question: who do you say He is?
Here is as close to a creed as Paul gets:
Godliness was revealed in the
flesh. It is the explicit teaching of the church, since its
earliest days, that Jesus of Nazareth is indeed the Christ,
God in the flesh, Godliness we can see. It is the reason for
Christ’s Godliness was
“vindicated” by the Holy Spirit. To vindicate means to
declare righteous. The Holy Spirit did this in the
Resurrection, for the wages of sin is death; but He who knew
no sin could not be held by death. Those who seek such
Godliness will be raised as He was.
Godliness was seen by the angels
– telling us the importance of the One who died for us. Even
the angels wanted to look; He is superior to them and
accredited by them.
Godliness is proclaimed in this
world to this day, two thousand years later. Despite the
very best efforts by the powers of this world, it is not
only proclaimed but believed.
Finally, as witnessed by man, He
ascended into heaven – from whence He will return, to judge
the living and the dead.
That is the mystery of Godliness. It has been
revealed to us, and now we should do something about it. But before
Paul presses into that subject, he warns Timothy of the wiles of our
1 Timothy 4:1-6 NASB
But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will
fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits
and doctrines of demons,
(2) by means of the hypocrisy of liars
seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron,
who forbid marriage and
advocate abstaining from foods which
God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe
and know the truth. (4)
For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be
rejected if it is received with gratitude;
(5) for it
is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.
pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good
servant of Christ Jesus,
nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine
which you have been following.
See how this will come – not all at once, but
step by devious step.
First, there will be those who
fall away from the faith, making themselves easy prey for
the deceiver. They will want the power of Godliness without
its discipline and truth. They are seekers of magic, not
They will pay attention to
deceitful spirit and their doctrines. Bill Walton, of
basketball fame, once told Coach Wooden that his method was
to empty his mind and then chant his mantra. Wooden told him
that if he emptied it, Satan would be sure to fill it.
The leaders of this schism will
be hypocrites – men who have seared their own conscience to
the point of non-existence.
Paul has been concerned with the externals of the
church – so he shows Timothy the externals that such people will
promote. He tells him of the external things which will be a sign
for the internal hypocrisy and seared conscience:
Marriage will be one such.
Honored by God, some will be commanded not to marry. This is
not just a function of the Roman Catholic Church; many times
in the early days of the church this same command was given
by the heretics. Manicheans, Marcionites and Encratites are
mentioned by Chrysostom in the early 5th, century, for
Another is abstaining from
certain foods (like red meat on Friday, remember?) Paul knew
this in his own time from the debate over unclean meat
maintained by the Jewish Christians. No one is quite so much
holier than thou than a true vegetarian.
This is my Father’s world
At the root of the second point above is the
Greek philosophy which proclaimed that things material are
inherently evil. Paul reminds us that God created – and pronounced
Nothing is to be rejected if it is received with
grateful thanks to God.1 By prayer – and the word of God – that for
which we give thanks is sanctified, or made holy. How so? Well, if
you are saying thanks over your meal, you have proclaimed it to be
food for the kingdom of priests. In the Old Testament, any food set
aside for the priests (by law) was considered holy. It could not be
eaten by anyone except a priest or his family. Has this really
changed at all?
Labor and Strife
But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old
women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of
godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but
godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for
the present life and
also for the
to come. It is a trustworthy statement deserving full acceptance.
For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our
hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of
believers. Prescribe and teach these things.
(1Ti 4:7-11 NASB)
Despite the recent prescription in our women’s
newsletter, bodily exercise is of little profit – for it deals only
with the things of this world.2 Rather, we should seek that
discipline which leads to spiritual growth. What kinds of
discipline? Let me give you some examples:
Fasting is one – the denial of
food to the body so that you will be able to concentrate on
prayer, reading of the Scripture and praise to God.
Set times of prayer. If your
prayer life is haphazard, what does that say with regard to
how much you value your time with God? If you are always
prompt to watch a TV show, how much more should you be
prompt to pray?
A plan of reading the Scripture. There are many programs
which will have you read through the Scripture in a year,
for example. There are many; choose one that works well for
Body and soul
If there is profit in disciplining the body, how
much there is in disciplining the soul! Exercise helps you in this
world only; spiritual discipline both here and life eternal. Satan
therefore encourages us to bodily discipline – only.
You might argue as thus: “I can see how spiritual
discipline benefits me in eternity – but how could it benefit me
here? It’s largely giving up something I like to gain something of
spiritual (hence, eternal) value.” Let me give you two reasons:
1. Because God explicitly promises to
bless, in this world, those who follow His way.
2. Because spiritual discipline resets
your expectations – so you don’t go around wanting what’s
not good for you. Much less turmoil.
Paul tells us here that this is a “trustworthy
saying.” It’s so important, he emphasizes it.
A Good Example
It must be remembered that spiritual discipline
is not easy. You may have to start several times before it sticks.
Count on it: Satan will do his best to distract you. Paul makes it
We labor at it. The word
in the Greek can also be translated as “hard work.” This is
not supposed to be easy.
We strive for it. In
other words, we will have strife in the doing – conflict.
The King James translates this word as “suffer reproach.”
Why? Because of our hope in
Christ. We know who will reward and uphold us.
And finally – now that you know what it is you
should be doing – go and tell the rest of the church. Preach, teach
(and may I add model) the truth.
 It must be honestly confessed that the
author holds that cooked spinach just might be the exception to
 This is a disturbing point. There are apparently those on our
staff who are of the “church of what’s happening now” persuasion.
When I hear a minister of the church proclaim that “any woman who
doesn’t keep her figure in shape is begging for a divorce” I feel
obligated to reply. When those around us (on the staff) confirm that
minister’s opinion, I begin to wonder how the Holy Spirit will fix