1 Timothy 3:16 Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.

My wife and I have been studying the Pastoral Epistles of Paul for our devotional. Just a few nights ago we came across this passage in 1 Timothy and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since. Its the latter part of the scripture verse that has been rolling over in my head and heart, “He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory. ”

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Both the structure and message of this half of the verse has perplexed me. This is a hymn inserted by Paul into his letter here to Timothy. Biblical scholars have named this sort of hymn a ‘heilgeschichtliche’ which is German for a hymn that tells a story of salvation.

Following Gordon Fee’s comments on this hymn in his commentary (NIBC series) I felt it was best to divide it into two stanza’s, the first focusing more on Christ’s earthly humiliation and exaltation (He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels,) while the second focuses more on his heavenly glorification (proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory).

What catches my heart from this hymn is that before Paul instructs Timothy on how to deal with false teachers 1 Timothy 4, he leads Timothy into a period of theological doxology. As if to say, ‘Timothy, you can’t do polemical labor in the body of Christ without worshiping Him and remembering why the defense of his person and work is so important. Its the sweetness and complete satisfaction of celebrating the truth of his person and work that is so important Timothy’.

I wonder if those in the body of Christ really take seriously the need for what I call a “doxologically driven polemic“? Theology can always seem a nicety of Christian academics when it is separated from worship, but when polemics shares its intended proximity to doxology, only then its value and vitality for the community is visible. 

Lastly, I noticed that the particular content of the hymn was the story of Christ’s salvation. The wisdom of God takes us back to the gospel, reminding us of our need for a savior that willingly humilated himself, was exalted and rules in a glorious fashion both here on earth and in heaven. We do polemics because his reign leads us into it, its an extension of the Kingdom of God, not a rejection or denial of it. And we judge the Church in polemics while being mindful of our own need of this ‘heilgeschichtliche’.