1 Timothy, Lesson 7: The Christian Religion

Altar (610x351)Last week, Paul finished telling Timothy that the Church is a pillar and bulwark of the truth. Thus, the Church has a role in safeguarding and conveying the truth that Jesus originally gave to His Apostles. However, truth being truth, the Church does not have the authority to alter, delete, or add to this truth. 

The Church to which Paul referred as the pillar and foundation of the truth was the “Church catholic,” not an individual congregation. He now continues with what the Church catholic confesses.


The Mystery of the Christian Religion

Read 1 Timothy 3:16

“we confess”: Greek, homologoumenos. This means “by common consent, expressing unanimity.” Paul did not mean that common consent made the great mystery, but that all Christians, that is, the entire Church, the Church catholic, confessed this great mystery. In other words, if someone cannot confess this great mystery, he was not part of the Church.

“godliness”:Greek, eusebeia. This Greek word does not have theos in it, which is the word for “God.” Thus, eusebeia is not like our English word “godliness,” which has contained in it that someone has, in some way, God-like attributes when it comes to his behavior. Eusebia, instead, refers to a system of belief and approach to God, which, in turn, shapes devotion and reverence toward God and how someone lives his life. That’s “religion.”

Paul now expounds on what the mystery is that the entire Church everywhere confesses. But we will find that it’s not a “what” but a “who”! Even more, this catholic confession of faith is poetry. It has six verbs, all having the same ending, the, (like “they” but with a soft “th” sound) followed by en, roughly meaning “in.” And so this poetic creed has sound repetition in it, like rhyme, but also a rhythm to it.


Who was:
manifested in [en] the flesh Jesus’ incarnation. But also His life and death.
justified in [en] the Spirit Paul uses the Greek word for “justify,” dikiaoo. “Justified in the Spirit” refers to God the Father raising Jesus from the dead through His Holy Spirit. “And if the Spirit of Him [God the Father] who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, then He [God the Father] who raised Christ from the dead will also make your mortal bodies alive by His Spirit who lives in you” (Romans 8:11). Thus, our justification—in its fullness—is not complete until our bodies rise from the dead. We will see this fullness of justification at the end of this poetic creed.
seen by angels Jesus’ ascension into heaven
proclaimed among [en] the Gentiles
believed in [en] the world
taken up in [en] glory


When we look at this entire, poetic creed, we can see that it is chronological. Thus, “taken up in glory” cannot refer to Jesus’ ascension. After all, the proclamation among the Gentiles took place after Jesus ascended, not before. Realizing that, this is what we see:


 Lesson 7, The Church's Poetic Creed


  • What is the focus of this creed?


Demonic doctrines to counter

The same Spirit, whom Paul just referred now reveals something else.

Read 1 Timothy 4:1-3

  • When are the “later (or last) times”?


  • Why is it that some depart from the Faith (that which Paul just stated in the Church’s universal, poetic creed)?


  • Instead of focusing on Christ (the great mystery of the Christian religion) and what He does (save His people), what is the teaching of demons?


“consciences are seared”: This refers to searing or cauterizing. In the ancient world, a serious cut would sometimes have to be stopped by burning it. The result was hardened, scarred skin, which could no longer distinguish sensation. Similar to that, consciences of these teachers have become hardened that they cannot distinguish what is the true Faith from what they are teaching.

“forbid marriage”: Paul praised singleness for those who had the gift of celibacy because such a person could give more time and energy directly to serving the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:32, 35). Paul never said that marriage was wrong (1 Corinthians 7:28) and that God had gifted many to marry (1 Corinthians 7:7).

Matthew 6:16: [Jesus speaking to a crowd,] “When you fast …”

  • Discuss: Reconcile what Jesus says in Mathew 6:16 and what Paul says here.


Read 1 Timothy 3:4-5

“made holy by the Word of God and prayer”: God’s creation is good. It is only bad because of the fall into sin, which we caused. Despite that, the Word of God (that’s Jesus who came to redeem this fallen creation and the word of God that connects us to Jesus) comes to make holy what we have brought into ruin. Jesus even keeps creation in subjection, all so it may be liberated on the Last Day.

All creation is eagerly waiting for God’s sons to be revealed [that’s the resurrection on the Last Day]. For the creation was subjected to futility—not willingly, but because of the One who subjected it—in the hope that the creation itself would also be set free from the bondage of corruption into the glorious freedom of God’s children. [Romans 8:19-21]

What appears earthly and unspiritual is made holy by “the Word of God [Jesus] and prayer,” now lived in hope of what is to come, reaching its fulfillment in the new creation. By faith, believing to be true what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1), living in hope for what we do not yet have (Romans 8:25), our entire life becomes a worship of God. “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).


In 1 Timothy 4:1-5, Paul uses an enthymeme. That’s when someone makes an argument without explicitly stating the basis (or premise) for the conclusion he makes. In this case, Paul doesn’t say that these false teachers have a faulty view of creation, but that is the premise for his argument. Because of that faulty understanding (that creation is in itself bad), they come to faulty a conclusion: avoid where the creation comes into your life, for it is bad.


Lesson 7, Bad Creation vs Fallen Creation


Being a Good Servant

Read 1 Timothy 4:6

  • Who are “the brothers” and what are “these things” that Timothy is to put before them?


“being trained”: Greek, entrepho. The Greek can mean either “train” or “nourish.” In this context, nourish seems best. When Timothy is putting the content of the Faith before the “brothers” (Christians), that word is also nourishing him in the Faith.


Excursus: Overseer (Bishop), Elder (Presbyter), and Deacon (Assistant)

The New Covenant

There is much fluidity with the terms relating to pastors in the New Testament, with overseer/bishop and elder/presbyter often used as synonyms.

For example, in 1 Timothy 4:14, Paul told Timothy: “Do not neglect the gift [of the Holy Spirit, 2 Timothy 1:7] that is in you through prophecy [the speaking of God’s Word] with the laying on of hands [ordination] by the council of presbyters.” It makes most sense that the laying on of hands by the “elders” made Timothy an “elder.” This cannot be proved, but it is the most natural conclusion.

And yet, based on the instructions that Paul gave to Timothy, he also seemed to be an overseer (bishop). Paul tells Timothy the qualifications needed for men to become overseers and deacons because Timothy is to oversee those who will become overseers and deacons in the Church. (We know this because Paul never wrote such instructions in any of his letters to congregations, only to Pastors Timothy and Titus.)

Paul operated from a worldview that a man will be theologically examined and found fit before serving as a deacon (1 Timothy 3:9-10). Later, if he served well as a deacon, he then is on the threshold to advance to the next grade or rank (the meaning of the Greek word, bathmos), which would be an elder and/or overseer. Then, the elder and/or overseer would have the authority to speak with boldness and frankness (the meaning of the Greek word, parrasia). (That’s in last week’s lesson.)

In the New Testament, however, we find a clear distinction between deacon and elder/overseer (Act 6; 1 Timothy 3). Thus, we cannot get “dogmatic” about a clerical hierarchy. Biblically, we can say that deacons are assistants to the elders/overseers in service to the Church. We can also say that, most likely, that elders/overseers almost always served as deacons first, proving themselves theologically and practically fit before becoming elders/overseers. In 1 Timothy 4:6, we also learn that when a man later became an elder and/or overseer, he does not stop being a “deacon.”

Further, “shepherding” (“pastoring”) is what elders/overseers do, tending to (“overseeing”) God’s flock. Pastor is a verb in the New Testament, not a noun.

The Old Covenant

God established three-levels of the Levitical Priesthood for those who served in the Old Covenant: High Priest (Leviticus 21:10-14), Priests (Exodus 28-29), and Levites (Numbers 1:47-53, 3:5-13, 32). Later, when synagogue worship developed (because the Temple was too far for most to travel to every week), it also had a three-tier structure of leadership: Ruler of the Synagogue, elders, and servants.

So, although the New Testament does not have a three-tier pastoral structure, nor mandate it, such a structure did eventually did develop in the New-Covenant Church. This was largely based on the three-tiered leadership structure of the Temple and synagogue.


Read 1 Timothy 4:7-10

  • What is Timothy to avoid?


“train”: Greek, gumnazo. Here Paul does not use entrepho (“nourish” or “train”), which he used earlier but gumnazo, from where we get our word “gymnasium.”

“godliness”: Again this is the word for “religion,” which Paul uses to mean the Christian religion.

  • Discuss the difference between “godliness” and the “Christian religion” having value now and for the life to come.


  • What saying is “trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance”?


  • To what end do Christians toil and strive?


  • Compare and Contrast: “God is the Savior of all people, especially to those who believe.”


Take-Home Reading: “It’s a Relationship, not a Religion”

We’ve all heard others say, “Christianity is a relationship, not a religion.” At best, that statement is incomplete; at worst, it’s deceptive.

But why isn’t Christianity defined as someone’s relationship with Christ? First, we have a clear passage in Scripture that tells us that Christianity is a religion! James 1:26-27: “If anyone thinks he is religious yet doesn’t bridle his tongue, he deceives himself, and his religion is worthless. A pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to take care of orphans and widows in their difficulties and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” Scripture calls what we believe and live out as a “religion.” And, yes, “religion” is an accurate translation of the Greek word, threskeia, which James used.

In 1 Timothy 4, Paul used the word eusebeia, which also means “religion,” but usually not translated that way. The difference between threskeia and eusebeia is that threskeia means “religion,” emphasizing the outward rites and ceremonies associated with a religion. Eusebeia means “religion,” emphasizing the outward conduct that one has based on his religion. We know that the outward rites of a religion, threskeia, do not encompass the meaning of threskeia because James says that what happens in the worship service (the outward rites and ceremonies) is to affect how someone lives his life!

And so we learn that the outward rituals of a religion apart from its doctrine and theology is not threskeia; they are a package deal. Good behavior apart from the Faith and the doctrine of a religion that informs a follower of a religion is not eusebeia; they also are a package deal.

Now, having just said all that, Christianity does include a relationship with Christ. After all, Scripture calls us Jesus’ brothers: “For those whom God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he would be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29). That verse points out that because Jesus physically rose from the dead, so will we. That’s the connection the next verse makes when it says that we will “be glorified” (Romans 8:30). And so when the Holy Spirit connects us to Jesus’ death and resurrection through baptism (Romans 6:3-5), we become Jesus’ brothers.

And if you are Jesus’ brother (a woman even becomes a “brother,” which has to do with inheriting what God has for His saints), you’re in a relationship with Him. But one’s relationship with Christ doesn’t contain all who he is, and has, in Christ; it’s a part of the whole. With Christ also comes threskeia, the ceremonies and rituals of being a Christian. With Christ also comes eusebeia, the life that is lived shaped by one’s Faith in Christ.

Instead, you will find Scripture use words like “communion” or “fellowship,” which changes a “me and Jesus” relationship into a “we and Jesus” communion. And if we want Scripture to shape our worldview as Christians, which we should, then “communion” is a more meaning-filled word to use.

Even more, the Bible never uses the closet equivalent word for “relationship” to describe who we are in Christ—the Greek word, syngeneia. It uses syngeneia in three places to describe earthly, family relatives (Luke 1:61; Acts 7:3, 14), not to describe who we are in our communion with Christ. What muddies the water even more is that Bible translations are reluctant to use the word “religion,” even when it may be the closest-natural equivalent English word. This gives you an incomplete understanding of the Faith.

Christianity is being in a covenant with God, through Jesus, in the Holy Spirit. And being in a covenant is being in a religion. And being in a covenant is also being in communion. Matthew 26:27-28: “Then He [Jesus] took a cup, and after giving thanks, he gave it to them, saying: ‘Drink from it, all of you. For this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’” The Lord’s Supper is the New Covenant, a communion with, and in, Christ. And that New Covenant (Luke 22:20) only takes place in a religion called Christianity.

When people, often unknowingly, deny the truth that Christianity is a religion, they also misunderstand what it means to be in a true “relationship” with Christ. Our communion with Christ (the Bible’s word for our “relationship” with Christ) becomes real in the covenant that God, through Jesus, in the Holy Spirit, makes with us. Just as circumcision brought one into the Old Covenant with God, baptism does that in the New Covenant (see Colossians 2:11-13). And since Jesus makes His Supper for us as the epicenter of the New Covenant, even the New Covenant itself (“This cup is the new covenant,” [Luke 22:20]), one cannot be in a communion, a “relationship,” with God without being brought into the New Covenant, which is the communion that we have with, and in, Christ. And so, without God’s “pure and undefiled religion” for us, we can’t be in a “relationship” with Him.

That reality begins outside you, when God the Holy Spirit working through the Word brings you, not only the gift of faith (Ephesians 2:8), but also Jesus’ forgiveness, life, and salvation (Acts 2:29, 1 Peter 3:21, Matthew 26:28). Jesus then dwells within you (Ephesians 3:17) and you serve others in your life (James 1:27). That’s Christianity. It’s more than a “relationship”; it’s also a religion.


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