Truth - 3
V. Instructions concerning Guarding the Truth in the Church (3:14-4:16).
A. The church and its truth (3:14-16)
3:14. If Paul had left Timothy at Ephesus to pastor the church (cf. 1:3), he also hoped to rejoin Timothy there soon. In the meantime, in case of delay Paul wanted the Ephesian pastor and congregation to have these instructions in hand. The “instructions” no doubt refer to what has come before as well as the exhortations to follow.
3:15. The clearly stated purpose of these instructions is to inform the Ephesian congregation how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household. Again Paul used the analogy of the “household” (oikos) to refer to the church (ekklēsia; cf. v. 5). This merges into an architectural image involving the church as pillar and foundation of the truth. The idea of the church as a “building” dedicated to the living God is a common one for Paul (cf. 1 Cor. 3:16-17; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:20-22). Some people teach that the church as the “foundation of the truth” is the source of God’s truth, that no one can know the truth unless he depends on the teaching of some organized church or church group. But Paul was simply affirming the crucial role of the universal church as the support and bulwark—not the source—of God’s truth. His words should not be stretched beyond this.
3:16. Paul had been discussing proper godly conduct in the church, behavior which is in every way consistent with the truth, rather than “contrary to the sound doctrine” (1:10). In 3:16 he expressed a simple idea which becomes difficult due only to its compactness. This truth about godliness being a mystery means that it was hidden but now is revealed. Further, it is a great (mega, “large, important”) “mystery” in that it is overwhelmingly large in scope and sublimely important in significance (cf. Eph. 5:32). Paul cited the content of this truth in the form of an excerpt from an early hymn about Christ, who is the essence of the “mystery” (Col. 1:27). Whether the fragment should be divided into two or three parts is disputed. Whichever one chooses, the six elements of the excerpt are as follows: (1) Appeared in a body refers to the Incarnation of Christ. (2) Was vindicated by the Spirit refers to God’s demonstration through the Resurrection (cf. Acts 2:24-36), by the Holy Spirit (cf. Rom. 8:11), that the crucified Jesus is Lord and Messiah. (3) Was seen by angels refers to His exaltation before the heavenly realm (cf. Phil. 2:9-11; Col. 2:15; Heb. 1:6). (4) Was preached among the nations (cf. Col. 1:23) and (5) was believed on in the world refer to the progressive fulfillment of God’s redemptive plan through His preordained means (cf. 1 Cor. 1:18-2:5). (6) Was taken up in glory refers to the Ascension (Eph. 4:10).
And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory [1 Tim. 3:16].
This verse probably constitutes one of the earliest creeds of the church. Some think that it was one of the songs of the early church.
“Without controversy”—means confessedly, or obviously.
“Great is the mystery of godliness.” The mystery of godliness is that God in the person of Jesus Christ entered this world in which we live, paid the penalty of sin, and is making men and women godly—that is, with Godlikeness.
“God was manifest in the flesh.” Certainly Paul is teaching the virgin birth of Christ, but he is also speaking of Christ’s existence before His incarnation. That existence was spiritual: He was “… in the form of God …” (Phil. 2:6). Hebrews speaks of Christ as “… being the brightness [effulgence] of his [God’s] glory, and the express image of his person …” (Heb. 1:3). The Lord Jesus Himself said, “God is a Spirit …” (John 4:24).
Now from this condition as God—not seen with human eyes—Christ came into manifestation—into sight—in the flesh. He became a man and entered into human conditions. And under these human conditions the attributes of His essential spiritual personality were veiled. This is the thought John gives in his gospel: “… The Word was made [became] flesh.” He was born flesh “and dwelt [pitched His tent here] among us …” (see John 1:14). Just as God was not visible in the tabernacle in the wilderness, so Jesus Christ was veiled when He tabernacled among us in human flesh. He did not appear to men what He really was; man did not recognize who He was. The One who in the beginning was God, was with God, and who made all things, became a little, helpless baby. He was the image of the invisible God and had all power in heaven and in earth, but down here He took upon Himself human flesh. Because He was not recognized by man, He was treated as an imposter, a usurper, and a blasphemer. He was hated, persecuted, and murdered. God manifest in the flesh was poor, was tempted and tried, and actually shed tears.
“Justified in the Spirit.” Yet in all that, He was not justified in the flesh, but in the Spirit. He was manifest in the flesh—that is how the world saw Him; but He was justified or vindicated in the Spirit in His resurrection. There were times when His glory broke out down here; there were revelations and expressions and witnesses of who He really was. There were angels at His virgin birth. His glory was seen at His baptism, at His transfiguration, and at the time of His arrest. The things that occurred at the time of His crucifixion caused the watching centurion to say, “Truly this was the Son of God” (see Matt. 27:54). But it was when He came back from the dead that we see Him now justified. He was manifest in the flesh, but justified in the Spirit: “sown a natural body; raised a spiritual body” (see 1 Cor. 15:44). No enemy laid a hand upon Him after He was raised from the dead. He will never be dishonored again.
However, because He came down here and has now returned to the right hand of God, we can be justified. Down here He was delivered up for our offenses—He took our place as a sinner, and now He gives us His place up yonder and we are justified. How wonderful this is!
“Seen of angels”—it doesn’t say that He saw angels; rather, they saw Him. He has gone back to heaven, and now all the created intelligences of heaven worship Him because He wrought redemption for mankind. Little man down here hasn’t caught on yet, but the song that will be sung throughout eternity is the song of redemption.
“Preached unto the Gentiles [the nations]”—this is still happening today.
“Believed on in the world.” Many today are trusting Him as their Savior.
“Received up into glory.” Today Christ is at God’s right hand. At this very moment, my friend, He is there. Have you talked to Him today? Have you told Him that you love Him, and have you thanked Him for all He has done? How wonderful He is!
!! Christian Existentialism
Christian existentialism relies on three major assumptions drawn from Kierkegaard's unique understanding of Christianity. The first is that the universe is fundamentally paradoxical, and that the greatest paradox of all is the transcendent union of God and man in the person of Christ. The second concerns having a personal relationship with God that supersedes all prescribed moralities, social structures and communal norms. The third asserts that following social conventions is essentially a personal aesthetic choice made by individuals.
Kierkegaard proposes that each of us must make independent choices that will then compose our existence. No imposed structures—even Biblical commandments—can alter the responsibility of individuals to seek to please God in whatever personal and paradoxical way God chooses to be pleased. Each individual suffers the anguish of indecision until he or she makes a leap of faith and commits to a particular choice. Each person is faced with the responsibility of knowing of his or her own free will and with the fact that a choice, even a wrong choice, must be made in order to live authentically.
Kierkegaard also upholds the idea that every human being exists in one of three spheres (or on planes) of existence, the aesthetic, ethical, and religious. Most people, he observed, live an aesthetic life in which nothing matters but appearances, pleasures, and happiness. It is in accordance with the desires of this sphere that people follow social conventions. Kierkegaard also considered the violation of social conventions for personal reasons (e.g., in the pursuit of fame, reputation for rebelliousness) to be a personal aesthetic choice. A much smaller group are those people who live in the ethical sphere, who do their best to do the right thing and see past the shallow pleasantries and ideas of society. The third and highest sphere is the faith sphere. To be in the faith sphere, Kierkegaard says that one must give the entirety of oneself to God.
One of the major premises of Christian existentialism entails calling the masses back to a more genuine form of Christianity, often identified with some notion of "early Christianity," or the type of Christianity that existed during the first three decades after the crucifixion of Christ in approximately AD 33. With the Edict of Milan, which was issued by Roman Emperor Constantine I in AD 313 , Christianity enjoyed a level of popularity among Romans and later among other Europeans. And yet, by the 19th century, Kierkegaard saw that the ultimate meaning of New Testament Christianity (Love) had become perverted. And thus, Christianity appears to have deviated considerably from its original threefold message of grace, humility, and love.
Another major premise of Christian existentialism involves Kierkegaard's conception of God and Love. For the most part, Kierkegaard equates God with Love. Thus when a person engages in the act of loving, he is in effect achieving an aspect of the divine. Kierkegaard also viewed the individual as a necessary synthesis of both finite and infinite elements. Therefore, when an individual does not come to a full realization of his or her infinite side, he or she is said to be in despair. For many contemporary Christian theologians, the notion of despair can be viewed as sin. And sin is something that Kierkegaard equated with the losing of one's self, the self being a free spirit that recognizes both the finite and infinite sides of his existence.
A final major premise of Christian existentialism entails the systematic undoing of evil acts. Kierkegaard claimed that once an action has been completed, it should be evaluated in the face of God, asserting that holding oneself up to Divine scrutiny is the only way to judge one's actions. Because actions constitute the manner in which something is deemed good or bad, one must be constantly conscious of the potential consequences of his actions. Kierkegaard believed that the choice for goodness came down to each individual. Unfortunately, most people do not choose. As a result, humanity will continue to relegate itself to self-imposed immaturity, thus living in both stunned apathy and agonizing inertia.
The Bible as an existential writing
One of the more distinctive aspects of Christ's teachings were their indirect style. His point is often left unsaid for the purpose of letting the single individual confront the truth on their own. This is particularly evident in (but is certainly not limited to) his parables. For example, in Matthew 18 he tells a story about a man who is heavily in debt. The man and his family are about to be thrown into slavery, but he pleads for their lives. His master cancels the debt and sets them free. Later the man who was in debt abuses people who owe him money, and he has them thrown in jail. The workers are afraid so they tell their master. The master brings in the man and says, 'Why are you doing this? Weren't your debts canceled?' Then the man is thrown into jail to be imprisoned until the debt is paid. Jesus ends the story by saying, 'This is how it will be for you if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.'
Often Christ's parables are a response to a question he is asked. After he tells the parable, he returns the question to the individual. Often we see a person asking a speculative question involving one's duty before God, and Christ's response is more or less the same question but as God would ask that individual. For example, in Luke 10:25 a teacher of the law asks Jesus what it means to love one's neighbor as oneself. Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan. In the story a man is beaten by thieves. A priest and a Levite pass him by, but a Samaritan takes pity on him and generously sets him up at an inn - paying his tab in advance. Then Jesus returns the question, "Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?". Jesus does not answer the question because he requires the individual to answer it, and to understand existence in the Bible one must recognize who it is speaking to. To Kierkegaard this is the individual hearing the passage.
A good example of indirect communication in the Old Testament is the story of David and Nathan in 2 Samuel 12. David has committed adultery with a woman, Bathsheba. He then murders her spouse to cover up the incident. No one discovers the truth and David thinks he has escaped unharmed, but a prophet shows up and tells David a story about two men, one rich and the other poor. The poor man is a shepherd with only one lamb, which he raises with his family. The lamb eats at his table and sleeps in his arms. One day a traveler comes to visit the rich man. Instead of taking one of his own sheep, the rich man takes the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepares it for his guest. When Nathan finishes telling the story, David burns with anger and says (among other things), "As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this deserves to die!". Nathan responds by saying, "You are the man!". And David is filled with terror because he becomes conscious of his guilt.
An existential reading of the Bible demands that the reader recognize that he is an existing subject studying the words God communicates to him personally. This is in contrast to looking at a collection of "truths" which are outside and unrelated to the reader. Such a reader is not obligated to follow the commandments as if an external agent is forcing them upon him, but as though they are inside him and guiding him from inside. This is the task Kierkegaard takes up when he asks: "Who has the more difficult task: the teacher who lectures on earnest things a meteor's distance from everyday life-or the learner who should put it to use?" Existentially speaking, the Bible doesn't become an authority in a person's life until they authorize the Bible to be their personal authority.
cf. confer, compare
Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1983-c1985). The Bible knowledge commentary : An exposition of the scriptures (2:738). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
McGee, J. V. (1997, c1981). Thru the Bible commentary. Based on the Thru the Bible radio program. (electronic ed.) (5:445). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.