1 Timothy 3:16 Being Godly

How many of you have ever suffered from an "earworm" (a song that gets stuck in your head). It's sad to say but I still take a great deal of (wicked?) pleasure in implanting songs into people's minds and then watching them struggle to get rid of it. I've found that it works best with old show-tunes and snippets of songs which are otherwise almost entirely forgotten.

But what if you could put a song in your head that should stay there? One of the methods of the early church was to put doctrine to music so that the hymns they sang were full of meaning. To a certain extent we do the same thing today but not all of our songs are as doctrinally rich.

Before his death in about the year 220 A.D. Clement of Alexandria described the constant worship of Christians this way:

"We cultivate our fields, praising. We sail the seas, humming. Our lives are filled with prayers and praises and Scripture reading before meals and before bed, and even during the night. By this means, we unite ourselves to the heavenly choir."1

Not much remains of some of those early songs. No doubt the early church sang from the Psalms, but they also began to write new hymns which specifically testified about Jesus. There are a few instances where some of the early hymns of the church made it into the Bible.2 A fragment of one such hymn which rose early in the church is recorded in 1 Timothy 3:16. (Read 1 Timothy 3:16- then expand the context by reading 1 Timothy 3:14-16)

True Godliness

How exactly would you define godliness? Sometimes it's not always clear what godliness really is. We tend to think of godliness as "an abstract ideal, a mere attribute of a personality…"3. The standard definition of godliness is "doing" and "performing". If I do this or that then I'll be godly. If I don't act like that then I won't be ungodly. But can that really be all of it? If it was than the Pharisees would have been godly. They did all the right things. But they missed the most important part of godliness… God.

The reality is that godliness is neither doing nor is it performing. The center of being like God, the core of Godliness is not merely doing what God wants, it is knowing God. Godliness is embodied in the person of Jesus Christ. Because Jesus is the very essence of what is godly.

So let's examine the rest of this description of Jesus together. The song, in six parts serves as an overview of the life of Jesus Christ. It starts with the Incarnation.

The Incarnation

The first line indicates the incarnation and his life. He was manifested in the flesh. The beginning of the book of 1 John goes into great detail about the flesh of Jesus Christ. We touched him, we heard him, we watched him, we experienced him. Jesus really was fully human among us. In the flesh the righteousness of Christ was displayed as he was "hated, persecuted, and murdered."4 "The word became flesh," John writes (John 1:14), "and dwelt among us."

Just to have Jesus walking this earth is not enough, many people encountered Jesus and did not believe in him. As he was born on this earth, Jesus must also be born in every heart by faith.

His Life and Ministry

Jesus was Vindicated in the spirit. If you go to the opening sequence in Romans we find that this is quite consistent with Paul's way of speaking. There Jesus is described first in the flesh as "descended of David according to the flesh" But it is the Spirit which reveals Jesus as the son of God, "but was revealed by the spirit to be the son of God" (Rom 1:4). But consider the life and ministry of Jesus. As I shared two weeks ago, everything that Jesus did he did in the power of the Holy Spirit. His very life therefore was vindicated in the Spirit because everything that the Spirit led him to do, proclaimed that Jesus was the Christ. (John 14:11 ESV: "Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.")

Having come to know Christ we can also walk like Christ because we have the same Holy Spirit dwelling in us as believers who also dwelt in and empowered Jesus' ministry.

His Resurrection

The third line is slightly cryptic to us. He was Seen by angels. As many do today, Jewish thought put a great deal of weight behind angels. The writer of Hebrews (Heb 2:2) alludes to the fact that angels were intermediaries who delivered the law to Moses. So there is a sense in which the angelic host of heaven here are called as witness to the fullness of Christ. So where is the activity of angels seen in the Life of Christ?

There are three main Angel sightings in Jesus' life. The Angel Gabriel announced his birth to Mary. Other angels attended him as he completed his fasting and trials in the desert. Finally, angels appeared at the moment of his resurrection.

It is this final note which I think bears the fullest emphasis. It was in these three moments but most of all in the resurrection where people might have seen Jesus but only the angels saw clearly. In the first hours of the resurrection there was much doubting among Jesus' followers but the angels certainly saw him clearly.5

I know that many people have an "angel fixation" and have pictures and statues of angels all over the place. But the angels are not the point. Don't waste your time enthralled with the messengers and miss the message they were honored to watch unfold.

The Gospel Message

In the fourth line we have the great commission. Jesus ordered us to proclaim him among the nations and that is exactly what is and has been done by the church since Pentecost. One of the long standing prophecies of the Messiah is that he would reach not only the Jews but the gentile nations as well. Over 190 times from Isaiah to Malachi the prophets tell us that the Messiah will judge between the nations, or the nations will worship him, or he will save the nations. Over and over again the Jewish mindset is taught that one day God's Messiah will reach the nations. Thank God that he has reached us! And may the message of Christ continue to be spread among the nations. The gospel of Jesus Christ is fulfilling prophecy as Jesus is preached among the nations even today.

For us the marching orders are still clear, they haven't changed. We – I am to be a witness and to make disciples.


Believed on in the world – like the prior line it points to Jesus as the object of saving faith all over the world. After Jesus' resurrection He began appearing first to a few disciples and then to more and more. At each appearance more people believed in him. The gospel message is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Rom 1:16).

His Ascension

Finally the song says that he was Taken up in Glory. The life of Christ did not end upon the cross but began again at the resurrection and today he sits at the Father's right hand awaiting the command to return. In Acts chapter 1 the story of the ascension of Christ is told and the same word is used to describe his ascension there6. Jesus did not merely leave, he was received into the glories of heaven as a returning conqueror.

The ascension of Christ is crucial for us. Hebrews (7:25) reminds us that Jesus now lives forever at the right hand of the Father and "…He always lives to make intercession for [us]." This is the mystery of Godliness. It is defined in the very person of Jesus Christ.

was revealed in the flesh
Vindicated in the Spirit
Seen by angels
Proclaimed among the nations
Believed on in the world
Taken up in glory.

Obtaining Godliness

The question then before us is "how can I be godly?"

When he starts by saying that the mystery of godliness is "great" he does not mean that the mystery is a tough one to figure out. It means that the once hidden but now revealed facts of Jesus Christ are great in terms of glory. They are marvelously wonderful.

Before Jesus came it was nearly impossible for us to define what it meant for us to be godly. But godliness is not merely what we do, it begins in the person of Jesus Christ. It is in knowing Jesus that we become positionally godly. If because of your faith, The Father sees Jesus in you than you are in his eyes godly.

Living in Godliness

Imagine singing that song over and over to yourself throughout the day; not because it simply had a catchy tune. Imagine letting that song resonate in your mind as it taught you about the very essence of godliness. From what we know about the power of music it should be evident that meditating upon the person and work of Jesus Christ like that would indeed have a life transforming effect.

Learning to live in godliness begins by knowing Jesus. It continues in the same way: knowing Him.

This week let me urge you to fill your mind with the essence of Jesus.

Knowing You by Graham Kendrick.
V1: All I once held dear, built my life upon,
all this world reveres and wars to own,
all I once thought gain I have counted loss,
spent and worthless now compared to this.
Knowing You, Jesus, knowing You.
There is no greater thing.
You're my all, You're the best, You're my joy,
my righteousness; and I love You, Lord.
V2: Now my heart's desire is to know You more,
to be found in You and known as Yours,
to possess by faith what I could not earn,
all surpassing gift of righteousness.
V3: Oh, to know the power of Your risen life,
and to know You in Your suffering,
to become like You in Your death,
My Lord, so with You to live and never die.
Knowing You, Jesus, knowing You.
There is no greater thing.
You're my all, You're the best, You're my joy, my righteousness;
You're my all, You're the best, You're my joy, my righteousness;
You're my all, You're the best, You're my joy, my righteousness;
and I love You, Lord.
Lyrics and Music Copyright 1993 Make Way Music

1Kenneth W. Osbeck, 101 More Hymn Stories, Includes Index. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Publications, 1985), 243.

2"Historical records indicate that the early Christians began using songs with New Testament scriptures and truths, in addition to the existing Jewish Psalms and Canticles, very early in the first century. However, few of these early hymns have been preserved. Typical New Testament expressions included: The Song of Mary-"The Magnificat"-Luke 1:46-55, The Song of Zacharias-"The Benedictus"-Luke 1:68-79, The Song of Simeon-"The Nunc Dimittis"-Luke 2:29-32, The Song of the Angels-"Gloria in Excelsis Deo"-Luke 2:14, Other portions of New Testament scripture that probably were sung by the early Christians included: Ephesians 5:14, 1 Timothy 3:16, 4:15, 16; 2 Timothy 2:11-13; and Titus 3:4."
Kenneth W. Osbeck, 101 More Hymn Stories, Includes Index. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Publications, 1985), 243.

3Massinger, Martin O.. "The Mystery of Godliness". Dallas Theological Seminary, Bibliotheca Sacra Volume 96 (Dallas Theological Seminary, 1939; 2002), 96:481.

4Marvin Richardson Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2002), 4:241.

5William Hendriksen and Simon J. Kistemaker, vol. 4, New Testament Commentary : Exposition of the Pastoral Epistles, Accompanying Biblical Text Is Author's Translation., New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953-2001), 141.

6Acts 1:11