Summary: Christianity in a postmodern world.
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 truth.
THE OCCASION FOR WRITING
During Paul’s second missionary journey (a mission that eventually took him to Greece) he added Timothy, whom he met in Lystra, to his missionary entourage. Following Paul’s release from Roman imprisonment and further mission to the east, he left Timothy behind at Ephesus to continue the apostle’s work with that fledgling church. Though there was more to be done, Paul had already spent an extended time in the region of Ephesus and he was resolved in the Spirit to continue on to Macedonia. It was Paul’s concern for the Ephesian church that prompted him to leave Timothy at Ephesus, thus providing them with sound leadership (1 Timothy 1.3-7). Paul realized that false doctrinal teaching might easily corrupt the thinking of new converts. This concern is voiced in the following section of his letter: Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth (1 Timothy 4.1-3).
HIS PURPOSE IN WRITING
Though Paul hoped to come to Timothy soon he has given him some basic instructions in case he was delayed. Paul’s instructions may have been things that Timothy already knew, but Paul intends to give him apostolic support and encouragement to persevere, thereby providing the leadership that is sorely needed in this logistically important church. In 1 Timothy 3.1-13 Paul instructs Timothy about the character traits of godly leadership. The overseers of the household of God (the church) are responsible to guard the souls of those who have been entrusted to them (1 Timothy 4.16; cp. Acts 20.28). The purpose of his writing is to insure that Timothy instructs the household of God to behave in a proper manner. Such behavior is to be expected from those who have been entrusted with the truth about the work and person of Jesus Christ. Indeed, the church of the living God is a pillar and buttress of truth. In the following hymnic statement Paul identifies six things that pertain to Christ. As members of the household of God it is incumbent on everyone to understand something about the work and person of Jesus Christ. After all, it is God who is at work in the life of every believer (Philippians 2.13). God is alive and so is the church!
THE MYSTERY OF GODLINESS
Paul introduces the work and person of Christ with the emphatic statement: Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness. Without confessing Christ as savior there can be no salvation. The confession that Jesus is Lord and savior is a necessary requirement of salvation. As Paul writes: if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved (Romans 10.9-10). With the revelation that Jesus is the Christ, the last word of salvation history has been uttered. Previously, no one completely understood how God would fulfill his covenant promises. It was a mystery of sorts that had been long hidden. Then, at just the right moment (Galatians 4.4), God’s plan was made clear to everyone (Romans 16.25; Ephesians 3.1-13; Colossians 1.24-2.3). Of course, Paul is not using the phrase, the mystery of godliness, in a proto-Gnostic or cultic sense. Some of Paul’s contemporaries were members of mystery cults, which taught that “salvation” was available only to the initiates of the mystery cult. The events surrounding the birth of Christianity, by way of contrast, were public knowledge. Indeed, everything about Jesus’ life and ministry was attested publicly. However, what was witnessed by all (Acts 26.26) was received through faith only by the elect: The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2.14).
WORK AND PERSON OF CHRIST
Paul’s sixfold statement regarding Christ was probably an often repeated liturgical affirmation of the work and person of Christ. Whether it was hymnic or creedal in its origin is a matter of debate. The section begins with a relative pronoun, which indicates it has an antecedent in a section of a liturgical document not included by Paul, though the subject matter of the section suggests it had reference to Christ. That Paul is referring to Christ is not debated, but precisely how these six lines are to be connected has not been universally agreed upon. It is not unreasonable however, to view the six lines as three couplets dealing with the revelation of Christ, the proclamation of Christ and the reception of Christ.