Sermons

Summary: In his first letter to Timothy, Paul appears to cite a hymn to extol Christ as Lord. The message, designed to be delivered on Christmas Eve, explores this hymn as Paul presented it.

By common confession, the secret of our godly worship is great:

In flesh was he revealed to sight,

kept righteous by the Spirit’s might,

adored by angels singing.

To nations was he manifest,

believing souls found peace and rest,

our Lord in heaven reigning! [1], [2]

From earliest days, the people of God have been noted for their singing. It is difficult to imagine a service of worship without singing. We are encouraged to be known for our singing when the Apostle writes, ”Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” [EPHESIANS 5:18b-20].

Elsewhere, Paul wrote the saints in Colossae, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” [COLOSSIANS 3:16-17].

In his various missives, Paul included portions of what appear to be hymns. Among those citations is one hymn that could well be sung by Christians today. Though the celebration of Christ’s birth was not observed among the churches until quite a number of years after His resurrection, the hymn Paul quotes in his first letter to the pastor of the Church in Ephesus could easily qualify as a Christmas hymn. In fact, that particular hymn begins with His birth and follows His life to His present reign in glory.

Among recent translations is the one cited that sought to rhyme the statements of the hymn. It is easy to imagine this hymn being sung among our churches today, though I am not aware of any hymnal that actually has these words in a hymn.

In flesh was He revealed to sight,

kept righteous by the Spirit’s might,

adored by angels singing.

To nations was He manifest,

believing souls found peace and rest,

our Lord in heaven reigning!

Perhaps a chanteuse among those listening today will set these words to music, fleshing them out so that we can sing them next year.

From earliest days of the Faith, Christians have understood that the hymn Paul cited spoke of God as manifest in the flesh. As such, it was a reference to Christ Jesus. This appears to be the Apostle’s understanding. The antecedent of the citation was his instruction concerning Timothy’s behaviour in “the household of God. Listen to the preceding verses. “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” [1 TIMOTHY 3:14-15]. Obviously, Paul is identifying “the household of God,” as “the church of the Living God.” He transitions smoothly to “the mystery of godliness,” which mystery he points out as having been “manifested in the flesh.” He is speaking of Christ the Lord.

Writing the Christians of Colossae, Paul spoke of the deity of the Christ, writing, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority” [COLOSSIANS 2:8-10].

Paul may possibly have been citing another hymn when he wrote the Philippians,

In God’s own form existed he,

and shared with God equality,

deemed nothing needed grasping.

Instead, poured out in emptiness,

a servant’s form did he possess,

a mortal man becoming.

In human form he chose to be,

and lived in all humility,

death on a cross obeying.

Now lifted up by God to heaven,

a name above all others given,

this matchless name possessing.

And so, when Jesus’ name is called,

the knees of everyone should fall

wherever they’re residing.

Then every tongue in one accord,

will say that Jesus the Messiah is Lord,

while God the Father praising. [3]

The hymn speaks of Christ as “kept righteous by the Spirit’s might.” Most texts speak of Him as “vindicated by the Spirit.” The Holy Spirit was visibly manifest at Jesus’ baptism. From that point, Jesus conducted His ministry in Judea “in the power of the Spirit” [LUKE 4:14]. His resurrection from the dead is the ultimate vindication of His ministry, as Peter states: “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” [1 PETER 3:18]. Paul states the same truth when he writes, Jesus “was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead” [ROMANS 1:4]. In the Spirit, God was proven right in the Son.

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