The Mystery of Godliness
March 22, 2020 Speaker: Jim Davis
Topic: Default Scripture: 1 Timothy 3:14–3:16
In the past week, I have had to wade into some of the more confusing situations where I had to sit back and wonder, what is the right way to proceed? Do I take all the toilet paper my family might need for the next two months or do I leave some for others? Do we live stream or do we gather physically? How do I pivot to possibly having my kids in my house for the next five months and how does that work with my wife and her job and her classes?
Good and godly people disagree on how to approach this pandemic. We had some people saying that this virus is going to be a big deal. You had others saying, “Don’t panic.” Some people want to worship in a large public gathering because God is in control and can do what He chooses. Others don’t because we could genuinely be putting someone in harm and communicate a low care for the welfare of our neighbors.
Then, you add the stress of the unknown, the financial stress, and the health stress. If there was ever a time when we would benefit from stepping back and listening to Paul, from a remote location, guide Timothy as to how he ought to live, it’s now.
Paul says that knowing how we should navigate these waters will come from knowing who we are, what we do, and who we serve.
- Who We Are
Let’s read verses 14 and 15: 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.
Did you see it? We are the household of God. And Paul isn’t talking about the universal church the way he is writing, although, sure, you can certainly infer that. He’s referring here to the local gathering of believers. The assembly of the people of the living God. And even though we are scattered about this morning, that doesn’t change the fact that there is a group of people called Orlando Grace Church that is the household of the living God.
So, what does it mean to be a part of the household of God? I can remember acting out of line in Sunday School growing up at and the teacher said, “You’re in God’s house and that is not an appropriate way to act.” If you grew up in church, you’ve likely heard that phrase before. I appreciate what my teacher was trying to do, but that isn’t a Biblical way to think about a church building and it isn’t at all what Paul is trying to communicate.
Ok, we need to do a little heavy lifting for a moment, but it’s needed to appreciate what Paul is saying. From Genesis to Revelation one of the most significant themes we see develop is the theme of the temple. The temple simply means the place where God and man meet. The Garden of Eden was the first temple, but that natural meeting place with God was destroyed when man rebelled against God. Then as the people of Israel are wandering in the wilderness, God instructs them to build a tabernacle. In the center of the tabernacle is God’s presence in some unique way that makes it the place God meets with His people. When the Israelites enter the promised land and settle, they build the permanent temple under Kings David and Solomon. That, then, becomes the place God meets with His people. But it wouldn’t stay there. God’s people continued to stray and He removed His presence from the temple.
So, God had to pursue us in an even more significant way. John 1 says, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was
God...And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…
That word dwelt is literally ‘tabernacled.’ Jesus, God in flesh, became the tabernacle. Jesus became the meeting place between God and man. Jesus paid the penalty for our sin effectively mending the gap that existed between us and God and in doing so, made us the tabernacle because now, if we believe, the Spirit of God indwells us.
When you come into this building, you bring the church in with you. You aren’t coming to church, you are the church. This is why Pauls says in 1 Corinthians: Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?...For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.
And in the DSV Bible, that is, the Deep South Version, you can see that Paul isn’t saying you, he’s saying y’all. You, the local congregation, are the visible temple of God. It has nothing to do with the building we meet in, but everything to do with the Spirit living inside of us.
And this has major implications for Lone Ranger Christianity. It’s very popular to hear people say they believe in God, but it’s a very private matter for them. Their relationship is 100% personal and 0% corporate. And even among your average Christian today, there is a premium put on private devotional time that far exceeds corporate worship. And please. Don’t hear me say that the premium on private devotional time should decrease in any way. I’m simply saying that understanding who we are as a local congregation directly affects our pursuit of a Godly life. And I genuinely hope that this season of physical separation reinforces that desire to come together.
None of us were meant to live the Christian life in isolation. You put me on a deserted island with just a Bible and I will not flourish spiritually. And that’s not just because I’m an extreme extrovert. It’s because God designed us to live in community as His household. And the culmination of that community is coming together on Sunday to sing together, to pray together, to repent together, to read and hear the Word taught together and to take communion together.
Growing up, I wasn’t the easiest kid to raise and I remember my dad saying, “Jim, you’re a Davis and Davises don’t act like this.” There was something about my last name that was so apart of who I am that it should actually change the way I conduct myself. The same is true with our being a member of the household of God.
So, how in the world do we process that at a time like this? First, we recognize that our current situation is not ideal and it is not permanent. If we had any sense that this was permanent, we would be making very different plans. We do believe we are going to be back together so we are bridging that gap.
The elders have established five guiding principles to help us continue to act as the household of God in this very unique time.
First principle: We will strive to be a regular presence in the lives of our people. We are still figuring out what this looks like. It could involve weekly Zoom Q&A with me. Zoom is an easy way to connect via video chat. It could be that our elders take turns leading various kinds of Zoom or in person prayer meetings. We don’t know for sure yet, but we are dedicated to being a regular presence in the lives of our people.
Second principle: Walk with a deep sense of God’s sovereignty and our responsibility. We want to have sober minds, acknowledging the seriousness of the situation we are in, yet a deep belief that God is in control. If we lack a sober mind, we are insensitive and naive. If we lack a deep belief that God is in control, we do not offer the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Third principle: We want to look for ways to provide community. Given that our government has limited gatherings to ten people, we want to connect people in real ways. This includes singles who might feel very isolated, parents who might feel overwhelmed, and students who might feel extremely bored.
Fourth principle: We want to look for opportunities to be the church at this unique time. We want to identify who needs help and who can provide help. We want to give practical ideas on missional opportunities while in quarantine.
Fifth and last principle: We want to execute weekly worship safely. We are working hard to identify the right technology and medium to do what we are doing right now and we want to give you tracks to run on to sing and pray in your own homes. We definitely are not the first to have to do that.
We need to know who we are to know how we ought to act. Second, we need to understand what we are called to do.
- What We Do
Let’s look at the rest of verse 15: 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, ( and here it is) a pillar and buttress of the truth.
The church is called to be a pillar and buttress of the truth. And Paul is doing something very intentional with his wording. In Ephesus, again, his audience, there was this enormous temple to Artimus. This temple was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It was this massive structure with over 100 pillars, each about 60 feet tall and these pillars were supporting this superstructure of a roof that claimed to all around, the glory and wonder of the goddess Artimus.
And a true riot broke out. So, do you see what Paul is saying? In the same way that these astounding pillars support the false worship of the Goddess Artimus, we are to be pillars supporting the true worship of the only God. John Stott says, “The church depends on the truth for its existence; the truth depends on the church for its defense and proclamation.”
I wonder if Paul could have ever imagined the billions of pillars that would follow him to support the truth. And do you know how many pillars remain of Artimus’ temple? Not one.
We may not need to defend the truth against an attack from those who worship Artimus, but we will need to defend truth from an onslaught of other forms of attacks. Our culture may not believe in Greek gods and goddesses, but they do largely embrace a very similar universalism that embraces whatever idea of God is best for you.
So, very practically, what is truth and how do we support It? I’m going to use John MacArthur’s definition of truth. Truth is that which is consistent with the mind, will, character, glory and being of God. We talked a few weeks ago about how Martin Luther said that before the fall, people could walk through the fields and the woods and hear God speaking truth. But then men rebelled. And although God never stopped speaking truth, we ceased to be able to hear. So God had to speak more clearly because of our inability to hear and that mode of communication is the Bible. The truth of God revealed to us.
So, how then do we defend truth? Honestly, in uncertain times like this, we have great opportunities to live it out. I don’t think there is a more effective way to defend truth than to live it out when it’s hard. Knowing the truth and living the truth are two very different things and I pray we take advantage of the opportunity we have to be buttresses of truth in the weeks and months ahead.
We have to think about how we in the household of God are to behave in this situation. In light of the stress that many of us are feeling and real disagreements about how we should collectively respond, we need to make sure that we aren’t lashing out at those we are cooped up with or interacting with online. When the church publicly fails to act the way we should, we aren’t the buttresses Paul is describing because we aren’t holding onto the truths we profess. We are members of the same household of God and we need to act accordingly. Let’s really think about how we care for each other and communicate with each other during this quarantine. We would do well to listen to James’s words, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.. - James 1:19
But there is one more thing Paul says we need to know about how we ought to behave. We need to know who we serve.
III. Who We Serve
We serve Jesus Christ. Paul says Jesus is the mystery of godliness. It’s easy to read this passage in English and be slightly confused and think, “well, if the apostle Paul doesn’t know the path to godly living, how could I ever hope to?
But that isn’t what Paul is saying. Mystery is one of these words that has a different nuance in Greek than in modern English. We think of a mystery as something that we just won’t ever understand. So we say things like ‘women are just a mystery’ and throw our hands up. But in Greek, a mystery is something that might be unknown to a great number of people, but it is known to at least some. It wasn’t understood, but it has been revealed.
Jesus Christ is that mystery. He isn’t one God among many. He isn’t a myth. He isn’t a crutch. He isn’t simply the most influential human to ever live. He is the only person to have ever lived and remained without sin, the only person to come back from the dead and the only person to credibly claim to be God Himself on a mission to bring us home. This is what Paul is wanting to communicate in verse 16!
Verse 16 is interesting because it seems like this was an already accepted hymn or prayer in most or all of the churches. Paul is using something they already knew to say Jesus is the key to a godly life. There are six things we need to know about Jesus that will fuel our pursuit of a godly life.
First, He was manifested in the flesh. The NIV says He appeared in the flesh. Jesus didn’t begin to exist when he was born. He has always existed, but to bring the mystery to light, he appeared as a person. Fully God, yet fully man and was present with his people in their pain and plight.
Second, vindicated by the Spirit. All Jesus’ claims were substantiated when He died and came back to life. That was His vindication. This was the ultimate declaration by God the Father that the Son was ‘not guilty’! Over 500 people saw Him after his resurrection. To me, this has always been the most compelling part of Christianity. Given all the evidence that we have about Jesus, I have yet to hear a conclusion more compelling than that He really did resurrect. And if He really did resurrect, then He really does merit our devotion.
Third, he was seen by angels. It wasn’t just humans who attest to His greatness and deity, all the angels in the heavenly realm do as well. Angels in the gospels appear before His birth, after His birth, during His ministry and at His tomb after He resurrected.
Fourth, he was proclaimed among the nations. The word went out to every tribe, tongue and nation. The Romans wanted to keep the news of Jesus quiet, but they couldn’t. The word proclaimed here is the same word that would have been used when there is a new Caesar. People would go to every city and announce or proclaim the new Lord. But this time, it was no ceasar. It was Jesus.
Fifth, not only was He proclaimed, He was believed on in the world. It wasn’t just news, it was a movement. It wasn’t just one class of people or one ethnicity or one geographical area. All types of people were believing in and committing their lives to Jesus.
And finally, he was taken up in glory. This, of course, is referring to His ascension. Jesus publicly ascended some feet off the ground and the fabric between our world and the heavenly world was torn open and Jesus passed through. He passed to where He currently rules all of space and time from one place. Where He constantly intercedes on our behalf to the Father. And where He gathers the saints in preparation for a triumphant return to the earth He is committed to renewing.
Jesus is the mystery revealed that changes everything about how we ought to act in any situation and this becomes all the more important when things get difficult. This is where we need the grace of God and the power his Holy Spirit even more! We need him to keep in our minds and hearts the promise that Jesus has made a way for us to spend an eternity with him where we will experience no pain, no strife, and no virus of any kind.
As Christians we should be wise and take every precaution because wisdom is a godly virtue. As Christians, we should be brave, and trust in the sovereignty of God knowing he has promised to use all circumstances for our good and his glory. As Christians we should be caring, looking around our neighborhood for people who we can connect with and help. And above all, as Christians, we should be loving, putting the needs of others ahead of ourselves.
And as I finish, I just want to acknowledge that in this unique medium of a live streamed message, there are people out there who don’t have a church home, who don’t have a pastor, but in whom God is using these events to draw you home. If that’s you, I want to invite you to send us a direct message through this Facebook Page or if you are watching on our Youtube channel just go to Orlandograce.org. We would love the opportunity to pray for you and tangibly connect you to the household of God.