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.

The Christ was adored by angels; and He continues to be worshipped by the angels! In that day, may it come soon, when the Master receives the title deed to all creation from the hand of the Father, the angels will worship Him, saying,

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,

to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might

and honor and glory and blessing!”


And when the holy angels worship the Lamb of God, all creation will join in, saying,

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb

be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”


And all the redeemed of the Lord from the ages will fall down and worship. When we gather to worship the Lord in this day, we are preparing for eternity.

Jesus is now proclaimed among the nations. Before He ascended into Heaven, the Master commanded His disciples to tell others of all that He has provided. The Master commanded, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” [MATTHEW 28:18-20].

Surely the world knows that Jesus is the Lord. Whether they openly acknowledge this truth of not, the very fact that all the world celebrates Christmas is tacit acknowledgement of Christ’s first Advent. And if He came once, then we must know that He has promised to come again. This is the “blessed hope” [see TITUS 2:11-14].

Christ the Lord is believed on in the world. We have heard the message of life, testifying that all who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ shall be saved. We believe the testimony of Isaiah when he wrote,

“Surely he has borne our griefs

and carried our sorrows;

yet we esteemed him stricken,

smitten by God, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions;

he was crushed for our iniquities;

upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,

and with his wounds we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray;

we have turned—every one—to his own way;

and the LORD has laid on him

the iniquity of us all.”

[ISAIAH 53:4-6]

We are speaking of Jesus who is the Christ.

Christ the Lord is reigning in Heaven. Angels testified to the disciples who witnessed Him as He ascended into Glory, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” [ACTS 1:11].

What 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!

[1 TIMOTHY 3:16 ISV]

This is the message of Christmas. This is the reason we celebrate the birth of our Saviour. He was born to give us life, and during the days of our pilgrimage we walk in hope, our lives marked by peace and filled with joy. We want all to know that Jesus the King of Glory has come. He has given His life as a sacrifice for sin and conquered death so that all who believe Him receive the forgiveness of sin. Do you know Him? Receive Him now. Amen.

[1] International Standard Version (The Learning Foundation, Yorba Linda, CA 2000). Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version.

[2] Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[3] ISV