The Inseparable Connection Between Preaching and Believing: 1 Timothy 3:16

Saturday, June 18, 2005


After studying the background of Paul’s epistles and the New Testament era in general, it is stunning to realize that, despite the short length of time that had transpired between Christ’s ascension and Paul’s letters, the gospel was still somehow mangled, twisted and mutilated. One would think that only two or three decades out from Christ’s ministry on earth that the gospel would remain unadulterated. But this is just not the case. And the more we read statements and arguments like those in 1 Corinthians 15, the more this fact is reflected. What this means for us today, beloved, is that if the gospel was so difficult to protect in those early days when Christians were so close to the time to Christ, it is much, much more difficult to protect it and keep it pure in our day when we separated from the time of Christ by approximately two thousand years. We cannot take it for granted that the gospel will just somehow keep itself pure and free from twisting, mangling and even mutilation.

This is the point Paul wants to make very clear to Timothy in 1 Timothy 3:14-16. As we discovered with regard to the Corinthians’ situation, gospel conduct is inseparable from the gospel. Paul writes his letter to Timothy for the purpose of letting him “know how people ought to conduct themselves in the household of God, because it is the church of the living God, the support and bulwark of the truth” (v. 15). Christians must remain holy in their behavior and conduct because as the church of Christ they support the truth. Therefore, if their conduct becomes adulterated with sinfulness, then their support of the truth will also become adulterated with error. This connection between gospel belief and gospel behavior is much too neglected in pulpits and books today. And as Paul worried, so I worry today that the gospel has in fact been twisted because those who profess Christ have become twisted in their behavior.

Nevertheless, the church is the support and bulwark of the truth. This means that the church must remain pure and holy in its conduct so that it can guard and protect the gospel message, the revelation of God. Paul continues in verse 16: “And we all agree, our religion contains amazing revelation: He was revealed in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the Gentiles, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.”

This passage is a remarkable parallel to 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 because like that passage the one here in 1 Timothy is an early creedal statement of Christian doctrine that had already come to be accepted. Other translations may render the phrase, “great is the mystery of godliness” or perhaps “great is the mystery of our religion.” The Greek word is eusebia (pronounced you-seh-bee-ah), and it is used frequently in the pastoral epistles with a wide range of meaning. The one fitting the context here is defined as the whole system of belief and approach to God that forms the basis our attitude and conduct. In essence, it is our creed, the content of the gospel we believe, the doctrinal stuff our religion is made of. Therefore, the statements that follow are an early listing of the great truths that the church is charged with guarding and protecting.

Now without going into much exegetical detail, you’ll notice that the creedal statements in verse 16 contain two which are salient to our discussion here: “proclaimed among the Gentiles, believed on in the world…” The order is established again for us as it was in 1 Corinthians 15 – preaching occurs first, and then believing follows. And not only this, but these statements put a third mark on the chalkboard for the fact that preaching and believing are inseparable. If they were not, why list them in this order, back to back? If not, why include them in a creedal statement that is meant to serve as the doctrinal backbone of the church?

Tomorrow Romans 1:14-15...

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