1 Timothy 3  


            Like so much of Saint Paul’s writings, we feel compelled to want to read it backwards. In English we like to hear the thesis statement first. In good Greek rhetorical style the thesis always comes at the end after the case for it has been spelled out in example. So, once again I am hoping you will understand and forgive a somewhat backward sermon.

            The culmination of Paul’s thoughts here come in the last verse, that is verse 16. And, here is an example of something rather rare: It is in a poetic form. If you were to hear this in the Greek, and I will spare you all this time, then you could hear the repetition of sounds and internal rhyme in the metered Greek. It comes across like a chant in fact. Perhaps it was part of an early hymn that has since been lost to us.

            In the first chapter of this letter it seemed that we were hearing part of a sermon that Paul had preached, and now we are getting the hymn of assurance that came after the sermon.


            I will have to share with you just one little bit of the Greek that is here at the start of the hymn from Paul. In our church bibles were read “Without any doubt. . . .” This is just one word in the Greek ϐμολουγμενος that I will translate as “by common confession.” This means that all have already heard and accepted these things to be true. Last week, I focused the sermon on the idea that Paul wanted to lift up the truth in the church.

            This one word in the Greek is what I think we need in our country right now. We have been told that some have “alternative facts” that will lead to different truths. Maybe it is time to set that notion into the dustbin of history and get back to the Christian ideal of “common confession.” This idea is recorded into our pre-amble of the US Constitution by Thomas Jefferson as “We hold these truths to be self-evident.” All Americans share this common confession that all people are created equal, with unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

            So, Saint Paul, not too unlike Thomas Jefferson, is painting for us this picture of a Christian’s common confession: “Jesus was revealed in the flesh, vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the Gentiles, believed throughout the world, and taken up into glory.” All Christians can commonly confess this as the basis of their faith. Amen to that! There are no alternative facts, or uncommon mistruths, about this OUR common confession of faith.


            So, still crawling backwards through the text, how should we behave if we believe this to be our common truth as Christians? Paul offers us a discussion of how deacons and Bishops of the church should conduct themselves if they believe in the glory of Jesus in heaven. Everything we do should in fact and in deed GLORIFY Jesus in heaven! The last word of Paul’s poem or hymn is the key to understanding everything. It is about glorifying Jesus in heaven.

            Let me jump back to verse 10. Herein Paul states that deacons of the church should be “tested.” “Wow, when I said that I would serve as a deacon in the church, I did not know that I would be tested!” Okay, all of you deacons, do not worry! The word in the Greek here means “to be discerned and approved.” You will not have to take out your number 2 pencils and fill out a scantron sheet. If you have been asked to serve as a deacon of the church it is because the church has already discerned and approved your faithfulness to the ministry of Jesus Christ! Or at least at this point that has been discerned, and next week at the annual meeting it will be approved.

            I want to just put an idea out there. When were you “discerned” in your faith by the church? This was when your faith was tested and you continued throughout your trials to give glory to God! And, the rest of the church took note and discerned that your life was showing our common confession of faith.

            The mystery of the faith, Paul mentions is this: When we are faced with cancer, or homelessness, or neighbors who are angry, you name it, we can still turn around and say “God is good. God’s blessings are on my life.” And, in those times when it seems that the blessings are flowing, we have enough not to starve and even to share with others in need, then we simply say “Thank you, Jesus!” We do not consider ourselves anything more than blessed by God. This alone is the discernment of leadership in the church. This alone is the common confession of our faith. In all things we give God glory.

            Paul wrote a general letter to the church in Ephesus that actually starts with this common confession of the mystery that we live to the glory of God. Bear with me as I share with you these other words to the church where Timothy is serving: Ephesians 1:3-14. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed .. . .as God’s own people to the praise of His glory.”


            Let us now continue back up the reading for today. Paul lists quite clearly then the expected behaviors, life patterns, values that we who share in the common confession must live by. These focus really on our relationships with others. The one that seems to always catch people’s attention the most is the line “And a husband should have but one wife.” This in the Greek is just three words that could be translated as “One Woman Man.”

            It does not specifically mention marriage. We know that Paul did not really endorse the idea of marriage because he thought that Jesus’ return would truly come in his lifetime, and he did not want to have to have children go through the coming tribulation. So, there is no mention in our Bible of Saint Paul ever getting married. Yet, this is a letter to Timothy. As far as history reports, he also never married. So, this must have been a reaction to some others in the church who were engaging in polygamy. This is not specific to Timothy’s life in any way apparently.

            I want you to note that Paul does not say bluntly “Thou shallt not engage in polygamy.” He could just kind of lay down the law in that way. Instead, he bravely lifts up what would be the relationship between men and women that would bring glory to God in heaven: “One Woman Man.” This is not a condemnation but rather an encouragement to have godly relationships. This is the Christian aspiration! This is how our relationships between the genders will give GLORY to GOD! Hence, it becomes part of our common confession.

            Now, believe it or not, I married a woman from a Muslim country. That is right, Malaysia is officially a Muslim country. Helen of course is a very strong Christian. Well one day I learned that in Malaysia, being a Muslim country, a man could in fact marry multiple women—up to four according to the Quran. I always have just kind of kidded her about moving back to Malaysia! How does that work on Islamic dating sites on-line: “Are you willing to be the fourth wife? Click this box and continue. . . .”

            When we were missionaries in Thailand, a Buddhist country, I learned as well that there was really no limit on the number of wives you could have. They have terms they use regularly in speech that denote first or “royal” wife as compared with the other wives a man has. So, Helen is my “Mia Lueang.” And, so many men and women would come up to me and ask me about my “Mia Noi,” my lesser wives! I would have to tell them that I do not have any “mia noi.” They would just look at me funny and ask “why not?” What a great conversation starter about what it means to be a Christian! As it states here in the Bible: “One Woman Man.” That is our common confession. That is how we glorify God in our relationships!

            One of our many exchange students once asked me if I would ever re-marry in the event that something happened to my wife Helen. “Nah, one wife is enough. If I remarried, then I would have two wives in heaven, and that would just be too confusing.” Marriage is a sacrament of the holy church of Jesus Christ, and what we bind on earth is what is bound in heaven. Jesus himself made that clear in Matthew 18:18. That is why you have to be 18 to marry. It is not 18 years old as much as Matthew 18:18. What we do on earth matters in heaven. What we do here must give glory to God in heaven—during our earthly days and our eternal life with God!


            Lastly I just want to take that idea and spread it evenly over what else Saint Paul says here. “Do not be a drunkard!” Why is that? If you get drunk today and cannot remember what you might have done while drunk, then one day you will be standing before the throne of Jesus, as it says in Revelation 20, and the Book of Life is going to be opened, and you will have to justify your faith. God is going to ask you about that thing you did when you were drunk. What will your response be? “Sorry, Mr. Almighty Sir, I was too drunk to even remember that time!” God might rightly respond: “Do you believe that you were glorifying Me in that moment?” Yikes!


            The final prayer of Jesus on the Cross: “Forgive them, Father. They know not what they do!” Therefore it is also our common confession that in the end we are all but saved by the Grace of Jesus Christ.